Somebody somewhere once muttered the phrase, "I'd rather be lucky than good." He was probably on a golf course, or maybe in Vegas, but I certainly hope nobody in U.S. national team camp is relying on luck in order to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.
After watching last week's performance against Grenada, I hate to be the first to say it, but the U.S. was very lucky to have gotten a 3-0 result and to still be in the driver's seat with the upcoming game on Sunday in Grenada. I know Bruce Arena would like us all to believe that he's happy with the result, but I hope he's not content with the performance.
The reality is that game very well could have been very, very different. And yes, luck had a lot to do with it.
When you're dealing with World Cup qualifiers, many elements come into play to affect whether or not your team qualifies. I would argue that the qualification process, on many levels, is more difficult than the World Cup itself.
Saying that, it is imperative that the U.S. takes the right attitude to Grenada, not the attitude that was on display in Columbus. Given the weak crowd and atmosphere, it must have been difficult for the players to have the feeling that this was a very important game. Still, I think the U.S. attitude needs to be better. This was 138th-ranked Grenada, a team that plays very similar to Haiti, a style of play that the U.S. struggled against earlier in the year, and a team that the U.S. shouldn't have taken lightly.
Without DaMarcus Beasley's first half stoppage-time goal and Greg Vanney's 92nd-minute goal, the U.S. could have possibly gone to Grenada needing a result, not to mention that it seemed as if before the game started, Grenada was tempting the U.S. to have them forfeit the game by trying to use an ineligible player. It almost seemed as if Grenada would have been content with a 1-0 loss because they knew that on their field with their whole country watching the most important sporting event in their history, they might get something of a miracle. The U.S. almost made that dream possible.
When the U.S. goes to Grenada and, in the future, to places like Costa Rica and Guatemala, they'd better be prepared. Costa Rica is the nicest, prettiest place in the world. But, on game day, something happens and it becomes clear that the match is much more important to them than us, as a country. As a player, you have to be ready for everything and it's going to be something different every week. You cannot play the same way every game. It's not just a soccer game. It becomes more. I've seen 50 guys lose their composure and lose their ability to play and their ability to think because of the distractions, because of the atmosphere. If the ball goes out of bounds at the (Estadio) Saprissa, you don't run after it. You let those fans think you're going after it. You wait until the fans run out of spit and then you go get it.
Until you've been on that field and looked at the stands and seen the faces and listened to the noise, or you get out of the bus and you feel hated, you don't know what it's like. It's hard for some guys to handle.
The U.S. is depending on players such as Landon Donovan, Beasley, and Bobby Convey to help us get to Germany. Unfortunately, to get to Germany the team has to go through Central America and the Caribbean. The U.S. has to depend on these three players, who have five qualifying appearances among them. Beasley said, "I'm sure it'll be an eye-opening experience." You're not kidding.
Wait for the day when Beasley gets hit with a battery in Costa Rica, or Donovan has to play in the Azteca when it matters, or Convey has to figure out how to dribble out of a swamp in Guatemala. It's a hard thing to get used to, but there are things you can depend on in World Cup qualifying: hostile stadiums, bad fields, being doused with urine, and your national anthem being booed. I'm a firm believer in creating our own luck. But it is not one of the things the U.S. team can depend on. Welcome to the real business of the national team: World Cup qualifying. Good luck, gentlemen.
Another thing that struck me during the Grenada game last week was the fact that MLS coaches need to cooperate with the national team. On paper, 3-0 looks like a comfortable win, but I think I speak for many Americans who were very nervous about how the game was going. When Conor Casey got hurt, it was 20 minutes into the first half. With Brian McBride already having taken a blow to the head, and the U.S. squandering several clear chances to score early on in the match, it was very clear that this game had the potential to be a disaster. Don't forget that Grenada actually had two great chances to take the lead.
With everything not going the U.S. way, with the team not playing well, with Casey on the sidelines and Josh Wolff in street clothes at the end of the bench, one has to wonder if Colorado Rapids coach Tim Hankinson's decision last week to keep Pablo Mastroeni for a midweek game could have potentially caused the U.S. to lose that game. Hankinson's decision forced Bruce Arena, in Arena's words, to not "handicap" the MLS game, and allow Kansas City to keep Wolff, Tony Meola and Kerry Zavagnin.
When Casey went down against Grenada, Wolff would have been the logical sub. Wolff could have helped the U.S. win that game. Jovan Kirovski wasn't expecting to play; he was thrown into the fire and didn't perform well. It is my feeling that this could have been prevented if Hankinson had made the right decision. We all know the story, but I don't think we all understand how serious the repercussions could have been. In World Cup qualifying, we can't be arrogant. We need luck, but we can't depend on it. But most importantly in all of this, there has to be a collective effort from all of our coaches to ensure the success of the U.S. national team.
I have to question Hankinson's decision. Maybe he was thinking, "It's only Grenada," that the Kansas City match was an important game for Colorado, and that he needed Mastroeni. Maybe he thought there was another player for the United States who could fill in for Pablo. But the U.S. needs to understand that this is World Cup qualifying and anything can happen. Anything almost happened in Columbus. Just because it didn't happen doesn't mean that it shouldn't be addressed.
Personally, I am sick and tired of having to learn and relearn lessons, especially in times like this. If the U.S. is going to grow as a soccer country, it needs to make sure it doesn't make the same mistakes twice. The U.S. needs to make sure the Olympic team knows what to do when they play Mexico in an Olympic qualifier, for example. They also need to make sure that the necessary steps are taken to make sure the national team is the best it can be at all times. So coaches, the next time the fax machine goes off and Bruce Arena requests one of your players, shake the player's hand and wish him well. And if you're still not sure what to do, ask Kansas City's Bob Gansler.
This week's matchup: Get ready to see more adjustments for the MetroStars when the Galaxy come to town. Some of the younger guys, like Chris Leitch, Tim Regan and Pablo Brenes, will get some time to play. It's funny how I don't include Jeff Parke in there.
Bob Bradley is confident his team can win the game. I think he's been emphasizing being extremely wary of Andreas Herzog, who has proven that you've got to put bodies around him and in front of him. If you make it easy for him to get the ball, he'll beat you.
I'm still waiting to see more out of Eddie Gaven. Sometimes playing on the same team as Amado Guevara limits his touches and limits his ability to influence the game, but this is a game where it could be all about Eddie Gaven. That's a lot of pressure to put on a 17-year-old, but I think his coach believes in him and the players around him believe in him.
He's impressed a lot of people so far, but he's gone 10 games with no goals. I've been hard on the Crew's Kyle Martino the same way. But it's the players who take hold of these opportunities who do better down the line, and this is an opportunity for Gaven. It's games like this that will give us a good idea of how good he is.
As for the Galaxy, I thought after watching the first 10 games - and I give the Galaxy credit for playing attractive attacking soccer - that their commitment to offense was the reason why they get scored on. But it's not. The reason why they get scored on is that Ryan Suarez and Hong Myung-Bo have been awful. They're good players, but they've played poorly.
The Ante Razov goal last week was a very bad display of defending by Suarez. After watching that play and watching it again, it's clear the Galaxy just have poor defending. It's amazing to me that they haven't been scored on more. I think goalkeeper Kevin Hartman has had a pretty good year, but the numbers are to the contrary.
Catch Eric this weekend as the analyst on RadioShack Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. Do you have feedback on Wynalda's feedback? Please send your comments to Wynalda. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.