Before we get into this, let’s establish one thing: As far soccer crises go – the type of crises that aren’t crises at all, just figurative language we foolishly lean on to describe different levels of drama – the U.S. was definitely “in crisis.” A must win game combined with open (if anonymous) dissent combined with lingering skepticism of the team’s direction? Yes, that’s a crisis, regardless of whether the game was really must win.
So ahead of the biggest game of the cycle, Tuesday’s match at Azteca, it’s worth asking: Is that team still in crisis?
I think you see where I’m going with this one, but let’s engage the exercise.
There were a number of factors that went into creating last week’s crisis. Consider this a checklist – an inventory of circumstances that need to be present for that crisis to exist:
- Poor performance in previous game – Despite Honduras’s obvious improvement, nobody was happy with the result in San Pedro Sula. Not with the late breakdown. Not with the stagnant attack. Not even with the amazing bicycle kick Juan Carlos Garcia put in before halftime that’s since been overlooked. Nobody likes spending a month staring at a “0” in the points column.
- Lingering doubts – For now, let’s set aside the Sporting News’ work and remember there were doubts before anonymous players provided the substance. Does Klinsmann’s approach work? If so, where are the results? Is the U.S. really better off under their new boss?
- Players falling like flies – Here’s the list of injuries U.S. Soccer identified when Klinsmann chose his squad: “Edgar Castillo (facial fractures), Timmy Chandler (hamstring), Steve Cherundolo (knee), Tim Howard (back), Fabian Johnson (hip), Jonathan Spector (ankle), Jose Torres (hamstring) and Danny Williams (illness).” Of the six defenders called in, three had never appeared in a World Cup Qualifier.
- High stakes – You have to win your home games, they say. Especially when you’re coming off a loss. Especially when it’s an opponent you’re expected to beat. The fear of the opposite – what the world would be like if they lost – fueled Friday’s urgency.
- The fuse – No denying: Monday’s report turned up the heat on the team. Some said that was a good thing, that it forced the team to focus, but if Friday went bad, that feature would have stayed in focus. “These are the reasons why they’re losing.”
Now let’s get our minds back on Mexico. Come Tuesday, now many of these elements will still exist?
- Performance – Scoreboard says? Status: Gone
- Linger doubts – One night can’t eliminate one-and-a-half years of anxiety. Add a result in Mexico to Friday’s win? Then you’ll have something. Status: Still around
- Player fitness – The big concern here wasn’t the injuries. It was the solution. What options did Klinsmann have? Friday looked like a decent one. Status: Gone, maybe
- High stakes – There’s a difference between intense and high stakes. Azteca will be intense, but if the U.S. loses that game, they’ll be fine. Everybody knew the U.S.’s final round schedule was front loaded. Three points in as many games is workable. Status: Gone
- That fuse – Winning in Colorado doesn’t mean those critiques were unfounded. And it doesn’t mean they go away. But it makes them less important. Now the team has something to offset those concerns. Winning does wonders, etc. Status: Defused.
Even the best teams can find themselves in a faux crisis. Who knows when the U.S. will find one again. But faced with the biggest adversity of the Klinsmann era, the team responded.
If I remember my Wargames correctly, the military use a threat readiness/alert system called DEFCON. “1” means we’re on the verge of nuclear war. When Kim Jong-un’s having beer on the White House porch, we’re definitely at “5”.
Sitting second in the standings with three points through two games, let’s take the U.S.’s DEFCON from 2 to 5. Everybody can chill out.
This crisis is over, but let’s conjure our inner cynic: “I can already see the next one.”