Jeff Bradley: Big win over Germany? It means almost nothing as true test awaits for USMNT
The lesson should have been learned many years ago, to not to pay too much attention to the results in international friendlies, because, in reality they are, well, not reality.
We should have learned this lesson in 1998, when the US tore apart a World Cup-bound Austrian squad 3-0 in Vienna, then went three and out, scoring but one goal, in France.
And again in the build-up to the 2002 World Cup, when great results in friendlies against the likes of Germany (3-0 W), Argentina (1-0 W), Chile (2-1 W on the road), did not exactly pave the way to a silky smooth run through the first round of qualifying.
On the flipside, those back to back losses to England (2-0) and Spain (1-0) and that goalless draw with Argentina in 2008 were quickly forgotten when the US won their first six World Cup qualifiers by an aggregate score of 20-1.
So, history should teach us that the 4-2 loss to Belgium and the 4-3 win over Germany matter little now as the USMNT prepare for three games that matter. When the ball is touched into play Friday night in Kingston, Jamaica, the level of play needs to be higher, even though the opponent's FIFA ranking is way lower than that of the last two US foes.
In Jamaica, it will be CONCACAF business as usual for the US, which means dealing with what's usually a hard playing surface and windy conditions. It will mean having to win more aerial duels, more 50-50 balls and more second balls than the Reggae Boyz. It will mean having a collective understanding that the opponent hasn't been to a World Cup since 1998 and is now on a mission to collect points and reach that pinnacle again.
If you've followed the US national team for any length of time, chances are you've seen this game before. Here's a quick summary of qualifiers played in Kingston through the years: 0-0 in '88 … 0-0 in '97 … 0-0 in '01 … 1-1 in '04 … and then, the last game, finally something other than a draw, a 2-1 win for Jamaica. That's five goals total in five games.
There is a chance this game could be more open than past US-Jamaica affairs. But a lot depends on how things go for Jamaica in their Tuesday night home qualifier with Mexico (8:30 pm ET, Telemundo). Should the Reggae Boyz lose that game with El Tri, they will have no choice but to go hard for three points against the US. But if Jamaica win over Mexico, perhaps they will be content to keep things tight, not only in the match, but in the Hex as a whole.
From a US perspective, with home matches to come against Panama and Honduras on June 11 and 18, you've got to believe five to six points from this stretch will set the US up to qualify. A point in Kingston will be just fine, so long as the US get 4-6 points at home. Three points in Jamaica and they'll be basically playing with house money. The only result on Friday night that could possibly create a bit of tension for the US is a loss.
So, getting back to the original theme, that it's not wise to draw too many conclusions from friendlies, does anyone think we'll see 13 goals total – the number of goals we saw scored in the Germany and Belgium games – in the next three qualifiers? Not likely.
World Cup qualifiers bring tight-marking, tactical fouling, time-wasting and injury-faking, none of which you saw during the last two US friendlies. If that sounds negative, well, chalk it up to history. If Jamaica get a second-half lead against the US on Friday night, expect the ball to be played into the seats more than it's played in to anyone's feet. Same thing if the US are protecting a lead. No one's going to be playing in a hurry.
It's the difference between real and fake.
So, if you are a US fan, what you can hope the team has pulled out of the past week's action is an understanding of the level of concentration it will take for them to get results.
A little reverse psychology could work here.
Maybe instead of looking at the Belgium defeat as a total failure, the US can draw from the fact that they scored twice without really generating any chances from the run of play. Crazy as that sounds, if a team can score on a corner kick and a penalty in a qualifying match, no one's going to care that you weren't slicing apart the opposition's defense.
And maybe, instead of looking at four goals and a victory over Germany as something really special, the US can look with a critical eye at the number of goals and chances they allowed. Sure that's a glass half-empty view of the game, but how often does a team surrender three goals in a qualifier and come away with points? That would be never.
So, maybe there are lessons to be learned for the players even if the results mean nothing. But for fans, you've been schooled enough through the years, you should know better.