The Throw-In: Enough's enough in year of underachieving
Turns out time hasn’t made this any easier.
I was too in shock after the US Under-23s were bounced out of Olympic qualifying. The Canada loss was one thing. But the finality of their elimination on Monday night hit me hard. I couldn’t believe we were staring that sort of epic failure in the face.
But I thought better of saying anything at the time, of passing any judgment. As I watched Freddy Adu slumped to the ground in utter dejection, as I saw Caleb Porter walk off the LP Field pitch with an empty look on his face, I clammed up.
I didn’t fire off any grand, sweeping Tweets. I didn’t log onto Facebook. I resisted talking about the result with my friends and co-workers. I decided that I’d wait to let it sink in, to get some perspective. I wasn’t going to write anything until I had time to think about it all and what it meant.
I’m finally putting words down, and I don’t like it. Forty-eight hours have not been enough to draw some perspective. The worst part is, as I’m trying to figure out some sort of postmortem, I’m getting hit with this overwhelming sense of déjà vu. I’ve been here before. I’ve done this exact same thing over and over again.
And I’m starting to figure out why. The U-23 zeppelin is just the latest punch to the gut for US soccer fans over the past 12 months, which have been littered with carnage.
I’m thinking back to Real Salt Lake’s sure path to the CONCACAF Champions League crown, and how it all went depressingly south, literally, on a night last April at Rio Tinto Stadium. I tried to find a silver lining then.
I’m recalling the US national team’s inspiring start against Mexico in last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup final – one in which even Tim Howard thought his team had “knocked the stuffing out of them” – only for it all to fall apart in front of a feverish Rose Bowl crowd awash in green. I looked for the encouraging message there.
It hasn’t even been a month since we were championing how much Major League Soccer had turned a corner in the CCL, making the tournament a priority and sending two high-powered, deep, star-filled US-based teams in the quarterfinals of the current edition. And then Seattle fell to pieces in Torreón, and the LA Galaxy were a shadow of themselves against Toronto FC. I climbed on my soapbox then, too.
Now I’m realizing I sat out the exact moment that kicked off US soccer’s year of pain and misery. Really, this all began in Guatemala City almost exactly a year ago. That’s when the US crashed and burned at the 2011 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, bowing out in the quarterfinals to the host nation and failing to qualify for last summer’s U-20 World Cup.
Four of the players on this current Olympic squad were on that team. They tasted abject failure with Thomas Rongen. They tasted it again with Porter. And really, that’s the perfect bookend to a depressing 12 months.
I’ve got no words of justification, no rosy essay on how we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, no claims that this will turn into a positive.
I’m done doing that. I’m done feeling this way. I’m done putting so much emotional energy into events that are supposed to be watershed moments for the game in this country, under the big spotlights, with big audiences, only to watch it go up in flames.
I want results. I want to taste victory. I want to see the best of what American soccer has to offer put its best feet forward and succeed. I want to win.
I know we’re all supposed to be in this for the long haul. This is all a process, we all repeat, and the game needs our support and patience. But after all the failures over the past year, I need a little something to get me through a dark era.
We need the game back on a positive swing and we need tangible signs of progress.
Porter said on Monday night that he’s never felt this way before. I don’t think any US fan can claim to know exactly what he’s going through, but we’re no strangers to despair in the aftermath of one of these recent failures.
It’s enough. We deserve to start feeling better. With no Olympics and probably no CONCACAF Champions League finals to look forward to, it’s now Jurgen Klinsmann’s baton to grasp when World Cup qualifying starts in June.
Make us proud, Jurgen. And make us believe. I'm done feeling like this.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.