As mentioned previously this week, the USMNT fan’s natural inclination these days is to turn cold and scornful. It’s understandable, as we all spent so much time watching a team and program that was an utter mess and just twirling around before falling like a child you made do the spin-around-the-bat thing. It becomes harder to buy in fully after the disaster of Couva.
But qualifying for the World Cup is a binary test. You either do or you don’t. The U.S. did last night. There were more than enough voices bemoaning the performance last night as the U.S. lost to Costa Rica 2-0, some four goals within the cushion they had. One, the performance wasn’t really as bad as the scoreline looks, though the second half got pretty ugly at times. Two, and more importantly, none of these guys are going to play a weirder match in their careers. Knowing you can lose by five and still accomplish your goal doesn’t exactly get the blood pumping. It’s frustrating that Costa Rica put out their B team, protecting any player facing suspension from a yellow card, basically conceding that they were going to the intercontinental playoff in June. But even seeing that lineup might have helped to reinforce the idea that this match didn’t really matter.
But again, it’s binary. And the USMNT is on the good side of that. It’s in, and everything resets now. It’s a remarkable accomplishment to turn the whole team over essentially, bleed all the new guys in during 14 matches packed into just five match windows, and get through it. And to do it in such a way that the last match is basically a dead rubber.
There are no style points. There is no such thing as momentum when the next game the U.S. plays that really counts is over seven months away. Ask Italy about momentum.
Sure, the U.S. basically returned to what it “should” be doing by qualifying out of CONCACAF. Remember how much 2018 sucked not having a rooting interest? We don’t have to do that again. That’s a good thing, and enough of a good thing to not worry about how the U.S. looked at the end of an oppressive qualifying process. Certainly the players themselves felt that way:
It’s hard to know what fans wanted. While the U.S. has produced or unveiled some really exciting plates in the past year or so, it’s not like they were just joining a stable and successful set up. This isn’t introducing Kylian Mbappe to a team that already has Griezmann, Pogba, Konte, Matuid, and whoever else. The only player who’d been through it before that was foundational was Pulisic, and he’s still just 23.
This U.S. squad had to figure it out together, learn it all en masse. And with a manager doing it for the first time as well, whatever your opinion of Gregg Berhalter is (and you can make a case for any one of them. I know because I have).
You can get excited about the draw on Friday, all the permutations bubbling in your head. There will be World Cup games come November, ones that you can justify ditching work for (you can always justify ditching work to drink, honestly). You can daydream about a surprising run, because they’re capable of it. You can dread a three-and-out, because they’re capable of that, too.
They’re in. Come Friday, no one asks how.
Staying in the soccer world, there was an awfully cool moment on the women’s side of the sport yesterday as Barcelona hosted blood rival Real Madrid in the Champions League, and for the first time did so at the Camp Nou. And they did it in front of 91,000-plus fans, setting a new attendance record for any women’s match.
Barca, as is their station as the best women’s team in the world by several miles, thrashed Madrid 5-2 to take the quarterfinal tie by an aggregate of 8-3. Barca are an absolute joy to watch, and the epitome of what the Barcelona philosophy has been. Total control of the ball with a poisonous attacking edge to it. Might explain why they’re 33-0-0 on the season.
And the fans were treated to this masterpiece from Claudia Zarnosa of Madrid as well:
Easier to watch your rival score on your ground when the home team is winning easily.