“That” moment in U.S. Soccer qualifying
In social media funniness, they call it “that” moment.
You know, you say “that moment” and then attach an awkward or absurd moment. Let me give you a “for instance.” It goes like this:
That moment … when your team’s World Cup qualifying effort shows signs of unraveling, and when a million dreams of Brazil 2014 threaten fall apart faster than the U.S. midfield against Jamaica.
So, yeah, that moment.
I’m really just having a little fun with the collective, reactionary voice in U.S. Soccer supporters. I know everyone is a little freaked out over Friday’s result in Jamaica, the 2-1 Kingston clubbing delivered to Jurgen Klinsmann’s men.
But here’s the reason everybody should calm down a little:
Every World Cup qualifying cycle has that moment. Some have a couple of them. It’s a moment where panic and portent of misfortune begin to infiltrate supporters circles, and with potentially toxic effect.
It’s almost always a loss or a draw on the road (usually in Costa Rica), where everyone loses perspective and needs reminding that qualifiers on the road are painfully tricky business. I know everyone wants the United States to be the regional bully boy, to go romping and stomping through the field, never mind if the match in question is being played in dusty Guatemala City or humid San Jose, Costa Rica, or Kingston, Jamaica or wherever. Fact is, the United States just isn’t there yet.
None of this means that questions don’t need to be asked about yesterday’s contest, where the defense looked OK, but where the game plan and personnel choices may have been half-baked, the midfield trio failed at basic tasks and the forwards – well, in all honesty they didn’t get the ball enough to make many quality assessments.
So, we can, have and will again visit about all that before Tuesday’s must-win in Columbus featuring the same two sides.
Still, let’s remember that nothing is lost just yet. Two of four teams in this group advance to final stage qualifying, and the United States has three winnable matches remaining.
So … what does history say about that moment? Let’s look?
World Cup 1998: On June 27, 1997, a 1-1 draw in El Salvador left the United States with a 1-1-3 record after five matches in final stage qualifying. That’s why the subsequent 1-0 win over Costa Rica in Portland was nothing less than massive. (I was lucky enough to be there; it remains today one of the best soccer experiences I’ve had – and I have been to four World Cups.) After two more draws, Steve Sampson’s team clinched a spot at France 98 with one contest to spare.
World Cup 2002 (semifinal round): Semifinal round qualifying in 2002 did not go smoothly. A tie right away in Guatemala and a subsequent loss at Costa Rica had fans falling over sideways. After two wins put things back on track, a scoreless tie in (you may want to close your eyes for a second) Columbus left Bruce Arena’s team requiring a win in Barbados to ensure passage to the final round of qualifying. (And at one point in Barbados, the United States was 25 minutes away from being out. As in OUT!)
World Cup 2002 (final round): A 2-0 loss late in final stage qualifying in Costa Rica threatened the effort. Arena’s men got back on track with a 2-1 win over Jamaica in Foxboro. (That match was memorable for what most fans didn’t see: the match itself, which was preempted by news reports of the war beginning in Afghanistan.
World Cup 2006: A tie with Jamaica in Kingston, a win over El Salvador in Foxborough and a draw with Panama in Panama City may sound OK. In the end, it was. But that draw in Panama came courtesy of a late Cobi Jones strike. And the draw in Jamaica had been a similar nail-biter. So, U.S. Soccer fandom was not feeling great about things. Then, in final round qualifying, a 2-1 loss in Mexico City may have been more palatable – except that it was the second contest. So, low-level panic ensued.
World Cup 2010: Remember when the United States always lost in Mexico City? Yeah, those were the bad ol’ days. Except that everybody conveniently forgot about that when Bob Bradley’s men lost at Azteca (again!) on Aug. 12, 2009, making things a little close for comfort en route to South Africa 2010. The United States (and its concerning penchant for conceding early leads) stood 3-2-1 in final stage qualifying, still in reasonable shape, but moving into an absolute must-win match in Salt Lake City against El Salvador.