Better to be lucky than good
we got out-everythinged. To me, the only thing that came shining through in, let's face it, an absolutely dismal performance by the U.S. team, was the fact that we still have experienced players who show up in games where their country needs them.
Cobi Jones was added to the U.S. roster as a replacement for the injured Chris Klein and many people questioned Arena's decision to call him up. Whether you like Jones or not, the fact is that his experienced just saved our butts on two occasions for the U.S. where we could have (Jamaica) and should have (Panama) lost. Unfortunately, though, not all the experienced players showed up in Panama.
One glaring example of that was Eddie Pope's performance. He gave up on several plays and overall looked disinterested. I found that disturbing. Kasey Keller stopped yelling at him all together midway through the second half, almost as if he knew that it wasn't going to get any better -- and it didn't. The conditions worsened, the Panamanians fed off their crowd, the U.S. looked for excuses and Bruce Arena looked for substitutions. It was just down right bad.
After the Jamaica game, Arena was quoted as saying, "I thought our guys played great." Well, I didn't. They survived that game and got a well-deserved point, but they obviously did not learn anything from that game in view of their performance against Panama. In the game against Panama the U.S. got exposed and we showed that we really aren't as good as we think we are.
All this talk about how we're the big game on everybody else's schedule is a responsibility that we need to be ready for. In World Cup qualifiers you can take nothing for granted. You have to make your own luck; you can't expect it to happen.
Look, we are better than Panama, El Salvador and Jamaica. But we have to prove it every minute of every game, every time we play. As bad as this game was, it's over and the U.S. still leads the group with five points going into the next match vs. El Salvador in El Salvador. If our guys show up and expect to walk all over El Salvador simply because they were awful in Foxborough, Mass., that would be a huge mistake.
The United States got lucky. Arena got lucky and his team is also lucky to be in the position they are right now. But as a very famous and successful person once said, "I'd rather be lucky than good." And by the way, Bruce Arena is both. At some point we have to stop living on luck because we're better than that. But as a precaution, I would recommend that Bruce Arena doesn't sit down in El Salvador.
Dallas Burn at D.C. United, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2
I don't know what it is or why it is happening, but in the last three weeks the ESPN2 broadcasts haven't covered a team anywhere near the top of the table and this upcoming game is no exception. If Dallas was 600 miles east, they'd probably find themselves in a much more favorable position in the Eastern Conference, but they're not. Unfortunately for them they're in the Western Conference, which in my opinion is twice as strong right now as the East, even though Columbus is making a late charge.
D.C. United finds themselves in a pretty awkward spot. Even though so many believed that D.C. United would be the team to beat this year and the team to watch (with Freddy Adu), they are far from the form of a playoff team. And if New England ever gets their act together, D.C. United might be taking an early vacation. Actually, I don't think that's going to happen, because you have to think that United will make the playoffs. But they are potentially so much better than what they are showing.
Hopefully for Peter Nowak's team, he will have a healthy Alecko Eskandarian, because for some reason or another, when that guy is on the field they have had much more success both offensively and defensively.
As far as the Dallas Burn are concerned, I think their situation stinks. It's got to be frustrating to know that they would be in third place if they were in the East. If this league operated under a single table, the Dallas Burn would be thinking about the playoffs, not wondering whether or not they would be a part of it.
The guy to watch in this game for me is Eddie Johnson. He and Ronnie O'Brien are two guys that don't get enough recognition in this league, even though Ronnie O'Brien made the All-Star team. If the Burn have any success this week it will be riding on their performances. Since Ryan Nelsen's injury, United have struggled with fast forwards. This is a great opportunity for Eddie Johnson to show us what he's got.
Even though these teams aren't anywhere near the top of the table, there is still a lot riding on this game. This is an extremely pivotal game for both teams, both coaches, both organizations. I don't think there will be a lot of goals, but I think Dallas is going to come out on top. My prediction is 2-1.
Former U.S. international forward Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will be inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame during the Oct. 9-11 weekend. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.