(Rewriting, editing, tweaking, obsessing, procrastinating. And reading. Just finished Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! and Katherine Faw Morris’s Young God. Now reading Eric Lundgren’s The Facades and Phil Klay’s Redeployment, with Balzac and A.S. Byatt and Ross McDonald waiting in the wings.)
Soccer is a cruel mistress. Ask any fan.
Last night, the U.S. conceded a goal with mere seconds left in the game, leaving us in the precarious position of having to draw with Germany to go through, or to lose by less goals than Portugal wins, or for a tie between Portugal and Ghana. We have once again snatched defeat at the jaws of victory.
The ecstasy of going ahead of Portugal with Clint Dempsey’s late-game stomach thrust was trammeled, flattened, paved over, forgotten. Leaving instead a dull feeling of foolishness. How did I let myself get sucked in again?
There’s this underlying notion—and I know it’s nonsense—that if I just care a little bit more, the U.S. will emerge victorious.
I’ve played soccer since I was six, club ball since I was 12. I had a scholarship to play in college. I was captain of almost every team I played on, and once I graduated I played in a number of very fine men’s leagues—including the top league in Atlanta, which is quite a tough league. I know the game. I’ve studied it, read books about its tactics, history, social importance; I’ve watched a thousand games in my lifetime; I’ve coached (which, by the by, I hated); And although I was far from the best player, I was hard-nosed, serious, strong and fast. I played to my strengths, and mitigated my weaknesses. In good form I was one of the best defenders around. So far I’ve called almost every game correctly.
Yet I never write about it. Ever.
Which is strange.
But here’s where I am with this particularly World Cup, which has been the oddest, wildest, least predictable competition in my lifetime:
- Costa Rica is the best-coached team in the competition. Their dual victories were not anomalies or mistakes. They managed each game to perfection.
- The U.S. has a good team. Bradley, however, must do better possessing the ball in the midfield. Despite what the announcers have been saying, he has been the biggest disappointment. Against Ghana, he was foolishly going back into our eighteen-yard box to receive the ball, or wandering around ineffectively in the midfield. Against Portugal, he kept giving errant passes. He must be better. (Johnson and Jones are great; Bedoyo was wonderful against Ghana, but ineffective against Portugal; Johanson should have been given some playing time; boy, do we miss Altidore’s muscle up top; and Clint Dempsey is a great striker.) I think we’ll make it through.
- Suarez is the best striker in the world. A goddamn genius. I love/hate him.
- England had a good team, rotten luck, and horrible fans.
- Spain made the same error Italy made four years ago; they brought the exact same team that had won the trophy, just four years older. (Klinsman is exactly right in his rigorous dismissal of older players; there is no room for sentimentality or loyalty in a national team.) Spain’s style of play, nonchalant passing in the midfield, seemed antiquated and downright silly in this tournament. Why?
- The game has evolved into a new phase, where possession and slowing the game down—tried and true methods, the classic Italian game—aren’t working. Attacking is the new thing, and teams attacking the most seem to be winning. It’s weird. The more direct a team’s attack, the more effective it seems to be.
- Speaking of Italy, they’ll be fortunate to go through over Uruguay. See number 3.
- Tim Cahill. I’ll miss watching him play.
- Luka Modric is the best center midfielder in the Cup. (Croatia was very unlucky to lose to Brazil.)
- France looks great attacking, but they are vulnerable. Ditto for the Netherlands. Neither team will win.
- Brazil is overrated and will not win. Maybe Chile? Maybe Argentina?
- Speaking of Argentina, something went askew in their soccer culture some 15 years ago; they’ve been living on former glory ever since.
- I haven’t seen any of the hard-battling tacklers of old. Even Germany seems to be missing those Neanderthal bruisers that used to define almost every backline. When did the game become so effete?
- European hegemony means nothing in South America.
- The MLS—and I don’t know who else has keyed into this—is a good league now, and many of the CONCACAF countries now have players coming through the league. It’s improved the CONCACAF teams immeasurably.
- And how in the holy hell did Algeria beat South Korea 4 to 2?