ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: A timeless goal and result for Michael Bradley and the US national team has the guys in a good mood. Come for the analysis and banter and stay for a must-listen interview with Tyler Adams, fresh off his senior prom and looking forward to the NYC Derby (and maybe even a first-team call-up sooner rather than later). Subscribe so you never miss a show!
I don’t know about you, but I’m walking around with a little swag in my step today. I feel good.
Sports can be many things. Inspirational. Unifying. Character building. And, sometimes, in rare glimpses, sports can be fun. Too often they aren’t, because our teams lose and/or athletes can get salty. But it’s a real treat when they are. Right now, the US Men’s National Team is fun.
It’s easy to overanalyze the USMNT. Of course they could always attack more. They could have prevented Mexico's goal on Sunday with some minor adjustments. But sometimes it’s important to step back and think about just the way we feel. Sometimes you need to ask Maximus’ age-old question: are you not entertained? And right now, yes, yes we are. And it feels good.
Giving us all the feels
Head coach Bruce Arena told the media after the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca, "I haven't spent a whole lot of time examining what happened in the past. In a lot of ways, it's not my business."
Well, I have, Bruce. It's kept me up at night. I didn't like my emotional relationship with my country's team, the way the whole thing made me feel. So I'm very aware of the differences.
On Sunday, the American soccer public spent 12 hours discussing the potential formation. And we didn’t do it in the self-hating way we did it 12 months ago. We did it with general interest. We were intrigued. We felt nervous and excited and a bunch of nice bubbly sensations in our stomachs. Then Bruce went on camera and gave everyone a tease. He didn’t need to. It didn’t help him to tell the world – and Mexico – he planned to change most of his starting lineup. But screw it, he did it anyway. He went for it. We all talked about it. And it was fun.
Then the team took the field. They could have – and hell, probably should have – been scared and hesitant. They could have sat back at their own 18-yard box and knocked long balls forward. But they looked anything but scared.
They looked energetic and excited and downright happy and privileged to be out on the field. They didn’t carry a burden with them between the lines, but a genuine opportunity. I asked 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta after the game if he felt nervous at the opening whistle. He looked at me like I was crazy.
Plenty to look forward to
It feels like the sky is the limit for some of the guys. I’m always a curmudgeon about young players. Way too often, we hype players beyond logic and set them up for failure. But, heck, it doesn’t keep my mind from wandering, too. It’s fun to think about what could be.
In his first start in a World Cup Qualifier, Acosta looked perfectly at home in a difficult midfield. New high school graduate Christian Pulisic continued to be a potential game changer. It feels, for the first time in a couple years, like tomorrow can be even better than today.
More than anything, the team’s style feels like a breath of fresh air. No doubt it would been awesome to see them possess the ball more. There’s always more I’d like to see them do. But the core is back. They are currently a team I can identify with and believe in.
They value hard work and camaraderie. Veteran central defender Geoff Cameron said the team can feel it on the field: "The group has been great, definitely a change in atmosphere for sure. It's just positive; guys are clicking right now, and it's a good thing."
They seem to like each other and enjoy fighting for one another. They seem to be proud to be on the field in our nation’s colors. They appear to grasp the responsibility of representing the country and holding the heart of its people in their hands.
Captain Michael Bradley explained it nicely after the game: "A big part of that is the idea of the team, of mentality, of balls. And understanding that we have good players, we have a good team, but we're not good enough to just step on the field and think things are going to take care of themselves."
I don’t think we should stop asking for more. We should hope and expect Arena to continue to push an attacking, proactive philosophy. But in the moment, we shouldn’t lose sight of what we have. I’m not going to argue it's brilliant soccer or breathtaking play, but it’s fun. The whole thing is just fun.
I went to Mexico, more than to cover the team, to have a good time; to get a unique, unforgettable experience. The 250 American supporters who traveled to Mexico wanted to enjoy themselves. It seems safe to say we got what we went for. A friend of mine in the American Outlaws texted me at 3 a.m.: "It was *^#+=\ crazy! Never again will I experience something like that."
We all enjoyed watching the game. When I talked soccer with the American fans around me, we didn’t use the old self-loathing tone that had become too familiar over the last few years. We were just excited.
Sports have put me through the wringer over the years. It hasn’t always been that exciting or enjoyable to be a USMNT fan. Even when they’ve been playing well, it wasn’t necessarily entertaining. So in these fleeting moments when they are just fun, you’ll have to excuse me for soaking it up a little bit.