breathe. We're not talking about the post-1998 World Cup "death of American soccer" here, we're just saying that the USA is a good enough footballing nation that when they play below expectations it is OK to say so. Will they qualify for the next round? Of course. Will they right the ship in time for the final round of qualifying? I'd say that's a pretty safe bet.
Are they looking like a top-10 side in the all-knowing FIFA World Rankings? Absolutely not.
Wednesday night's performance (not result) in Panama City was a disappointment, go ahead and say it loud. They were a whiff, a splash and a tap-in away from being third in the group halfway through the phase. And some even think Cobi's bunny was offside, although I haven't seen a replay that proves it.
All I know is it's gotta be a harsh irony for the Panamanian faithful that four days after a huge win in the land of the dreadlocks, someone with Cobi's 'do snatches a win right out from under them.
So let's look at what concerned me about the last couple matches:
EXPECTING TO WIN? Yes, I'll admit, I do get sucked in sometimes to thinking the Yanks should dance through this average region and win almost every game. But sometimes you get the feeling too many players on this team are also just expecting to win and/or waiting for someone else to step up and put the game on their shoulders. Wednesday night, no one did. I kept looking for someone like Claudio Reyna to really stamp his mark on the proceedings, but it just never came.
KILL OR BE KILLED: This U.S. side needs to learn how to kill off a game against a lesser opponent. Wednesday night in Panama City, they had several chances to put a dagger in the home side early. But because Panama weathered the storm, so to speak, they gained confidence and dominated the second half.
The same could also be said for Saturday in Foxborough. After the USA scored early and then saw an opponent shockingly sent off for wearing a Flavor Flav clock around his neck or something, they kept the Salvadorans around for too long. While the visitors never really looked the part of scoring, the Yanks should have dispatched with a bad team early on and never looked back.
COULD'VE BEEN SO BEAUTIFUL: OK, I may just be taking the opportunity to plug one of Greg Lalas' fave Tiffany tunes from back in the day. But I do have a point: if the Yanks had won this game as they should have after a strong first half, they would be on seven points with two home matches and a visit to an overmatched El Salvador left in the group. That would have given The Bruce the chance to perhaps bring in some young guys and give them a taste of the oh-so-friendly atmosphere in San Salvador, but instead he must have on his Sunday best to make sure the Yanks don't turn this semifinal phase into anything interesting.
SOMEONE PLEASE HIT THE TARGET(S): This is not about the Yanks' shooting, but rather about their passing, or lack thereof. If The Bruce is going to start two target men up top, the boys need to be whipping balls in to the two big guys in the box. After Bobby Convey found the head of Brian Ching early on Saturday, I feel like I can count on one hand the quality crosses that came into the box for the remainder of that game and the draw in Panama. You have two big targets, use them.
THIS ISN'T YOUR FATHER'S CONCACAF: Yes, a draw on the road in CONCACAF is supposed to always be enough, and frankly it should be. However to be perfectly honest, there were only 12,000-15,000 people there depending on which report you read and Panama is an average team in a region that is by all accounts not at its best right now.
Yes, the States earned a result on the road, and that is all that matters at the end of the day ... period. But let's not try and make the picture any rosier than that -- they played down to the level of a mediocre opponent and had to scrape out a draw against a team they should have outclassed.
They'll be back on form soon. That's what good footballing nations do.
FOR RECREATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY:
I know a guy, who knows a guy, who knows a guy ... so every week TCS is gonna put a little action on the action, if you know what I'm talkin' about. Each week in this space we'll track how last week went and what's on the books, so to speak, for the upcoming week.
LAST WEEK: I decide to be cute and bet 50 on every game to end in a draw and I get what I deserve -- nary a tie. I do pull 100 back on the Yanks over El Salvador.
CURRENT BANK: -400
THIS WEEK: I like Metro over the Revs, my Burn to get a draw at RFK, and the full version of the Quakes to rebound with a win at the HDC - 100 each.
GRAB A COLD BUD (OR AQUAFINA) AND PUT YER FEET UP:
WHAT I'LL BE WATCHING:
Saturday - BURN AT ADUNITED (4 p.m. ET on The Deuce): Huge one for my Burn, who with six to play are still out of the playoff picture. The Crew have finally realized it is not against league policy to score more goals than the other team, so DC suddenly finds itself ten points out of first place.
Saturday - QUAKES AT GALAXY (10 p.m. ET on Fox Sports World): Should be a big crowd for what I'm starting to worry may be one of the last of one of my fave match-ups: the Quakes-Galaxy California derby.
While I still think it is a complete joke the Quakes and Crew played on Wednesday night, full marks to Columbus for capitalizing on the situation.
Tough break for Preki, hope we haven't see the famous cutbacks for the last time in MLS. Maybe defenders can use this time to realize something for if and when he does come back ... FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, HE'S ALWAYS GONNA PULL IT BACK TO HIS LEFT FOOT!
The Clean Sheet runs each Thursday on MLSnet. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com. Send any questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org