Let’s begin this week with the most flaming-hot of takes: the U.S. national team, as with nearly everything in life, is fine.
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It is unspectacular in just about every way imaginable — it is truly unspectacular and joyless of late — yet still reliable enough to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and once again send a nation of nearly 320 million into soccer delirium in 27 months’ time, just as it has done every four years for nearly three decades now.
In much the same fashion, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side remains just functional enough to not totally embarrass itself at the 2016 Copa America Centenario.
The draw for this summer’s tournament was conducted Sunday night — alongside the Yanks in Group A are Colombia, Paraguay and Costa Rica — and the Yanks were handed a totally manageable field for a CONCACAF giant like themselves. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they should be expected to advance from that group. Doing so only requires they be better than Paraguay and Costa Rica.
Let’s break it down bit by bit: Colombia are really, really good — decidedly better than the USMNT — but must only be played once during the group stage; that Colombia are far and away the best side in Group A and not, say, Brazil or Argentina, is a massive assist for the hosting Americans. Paraguay are, like the USMNT, spectacularly unspectacular and on their very best day, South America’s seventh-best side. Costa Rica have won just four of their 13 competitive meetings with the USMNT this century, drawn three and lost six.
It could have been so much worse — Chile are the current Copa America holders and Uruguay possess some fellow named Luis Suarez; Jamaica are at present probably CONCACAF’s third- or — gasp — second-best side; and Peru are miles better than Paraguay, whom they brushed aside with ease in the third-place game at last year’s Copa.
If, as a soccer nation, the United States is suddenly terrified of Paraguay and Costa Rica, then Jurgen Klinsmann truly has broken our spirit, our hopes and our dreams, and replaced them with the kind of resignation to defeat that’s typically only suitable for fans of the Colorado Rapids and Chicago Fire.
This is not a “group of death,” as so many in the States were quick to dub it Sunday night. Truth is, the USMNT at present isn’t generally good enough to be anything more than the third- or fourth-best team in a real group of death (CONCACAF doesn’t have four teams capable of this, let alone six to fill out a four-group tournament with two seeded sides). See, the group of death implies an equally daunting test for all four teams in the group, not that it’s simply a tougher test than USMNT fans would have liked, or even that it’s “the toughest group” of the four.
It’s a challenge and an ideal litmus test halfway to the next World Cup, to be sure, but if we’re wetting ourselves over the prospect of needing to win four points from games against Paraguay and Costa Rica, on home soil, you’re really not going to enjoy the next World Cup.