A commenter in a previous post mentioned a certain sinking and unpleasant feeling. He was alarmed that a few U.S. Soccer “concerns” over Friday’s World Cup qualifier were more “excuses in the making.” In other words, he was concerned about the ol’ gambit most commonly known as “covering your butt.”
The concerns were about U.S. injury issues that have stripped away a layer of talent available to coach Jurgen Klinsmann, helping to reduce a significant gap in talent between tonight’s competitors, the United States and Antigua-Barbuda. (The visiting Americans still enjoy a significant edge in skill, of course.)
And it was about field conditions in Antigua, about U.S. eagerness to get into the country yesterday and see how the cricket ground is holding up.
I suppose it is easy to see this as U.S. Soccer arranging excuses in case things go horribly sideways. But … that’s not it.
From the U.S. Soccer perspective, and from my perspective as a journalist, it’s not about making “excuses” or being gullible and naive enough to write thoughtlessly about them. I promise, my “built-in, shock-proof, BS detector,” which Hemingway famously called an essential requirement in every journalist’s tool belt, works fine.
The bottom line here is this: the stakes are remarkably high.
So this falls under “concern” and “being thorough.” (And now I will paraphrase from what I told the commenter yesterday):
At an international soccer level, all of this becomes quite serious. (Sometimes too serious, I think, although the easy-going Klinsmann has taken that down a notch from the Bob Bradley days, where things were sometimes treated with a Pentagon-level somber and substance.)
It is usually the same for big college football programs, for most professional sports programs, etc. When the stakes are elevated, they fret over even the smallest of details, like how many pats of butter are on each table at the night-before dinner (true story of one college football program.) And shouldn’t they? If Klinsmann and his staff gets caught off guard – not over pats of butter, but something a little more substantial – myself and a bunch of men and women like me will bite right into the center of that chewy little chocolate delight.
For instance: U.S. Supporters might look at a crappy surface and assess: “Man, the field looks like a real mess … Hey! Who wants another beer?”
But team officials don’t have that luxury; they must actually prepare for all scenarios. Fretting over this stuff, conditions, injuries, logistics, proper roster cover … the whole shootin’ match, that’s why they get paid good money.
And then the stakes: I’ll let the Sporting News’ Brian Straus tell you about that one. This piece says why; it’s a look at what might happen if the U.S. (gasp!) fails to qualify.
This also should be said: if the United States does crash land, there will be no excuses. It will be seen as a colossal failure.
So, setting up excuses? I think once we all give that one some thought, we can all agree that’s a moot exercise.
There will be no excuses.