Thursday, October 12, 2017

Broken Cup

The U.S men's national soccer team will not be going to the World Cup.

This is somewhat astonishing. When TigerBlog was a kid, the Americans never reached the World Cup, and very few people - no one that TB knew - remotely cared about that. Seriously. Nobody even talked about it, even as the Cosmos were selling out Giants Stadium. Think about how different times are now when it comes to soccer in this country.

The U.S., in fact, did not reach the World Cup between an appearance in 1950 and its return in 1990. Since then, the Americans have reached every single World Cup, until the next one.

The U.S. was eliminated Tuesday night, when the 2-1 loss to Trinidad-Tobago was paired with wins by Honduras (over Mexico) and Panama (over Costa Rica). As a result, Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama advance directly to the World Cup in Russia, while Honduras plays a two-game series against Australia for a spot

Panama, by the way, was on the verge of being eliminated, needing a U.S. loss or tie and a win over Costa Rica, who had qualified for Russia last weekend. Panama was getting the help it needed, but Costa Rica scored first in that game.

It is TigerBlog's contention, by the way, that soccer games are much more exciting when one team scores early, than if they stay 0-0 for a long time.

Anyway, Panama tied it and then won it just before the final whistle in stoppage time, which sends Panama to the World Cup for the first time ever.

For the U.S., this is a major embarrassment and step backward. TB would point out that in the last three World Cup cycles, the Americans have gone:
* qualified and won group in 2010 - with Princeton alum Bob Bradley as coach
* qualified but didn't win group in 2014 - without Bradley
* didn't qualify at all - still without Bradley

For all the commentary about Bradley, the U.S. program would have been much better off had he stayed the head coach all this time. Why is it that people downplay the value of continuity?

In case you missed it, Taylor Twellman had a thought or two about the situation:

The Americans were falling apart about the same time that Princeton was beating St. John's in men's soccer, 1-0. The goal came from Jeremy Colvin with five minutes to go, but the real star was freshman goalkeeper Sam Morton.

Here's video proof of that:

Morton, from outside of Atlanta, had more than just that save in the final seconds. He was spectacular the whole game.

It was a great night for a player who was making his collegiate debut. Princeton has won three games so far this year, two of which have come against Big East opponents Villanova and St. John's during the last two weeks. The other is against FDU, who was ranked 21st at the time.

This weekend, the challenge is another nationally ranked team, Columbia, who comes to Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium for the front end of a doubleheader, beginning at 4. The women's game between Princeton women and Columbia follows at 7. Sean Driscoll's Tigers are currently ranked 11th nationally.

The Princeton women and the Columbia women are the only two unbeaten teams in the Ivy League. Yale is next, at 2-1-0, with only a loss to Princeton.

Somewhat wildly, there are only four games left to the Ivy women's soccer season. Princeton has had an extraordinary year, with only a loss to last year's national runner-up West Virginia next to 11 wins. Princeton's RPI is even better than its national ranking, at No. 6.

Princeton has a great shot at an at-large NCAA bid, but winning the league would take the suspense out of the selections. Closing it out will not be easy though. It never is, not in soccer, where perfect Ivy seasons are rarities.

Admission to the doubleheader is free. It's a chance to see teams based in the U.S. play meaningful games. Unlike the next World Cup, which, by the way, TigerBlog will still watch with great interest.

Speaking of which, TigerBlog asked Jim Barlow if he wanted to write a guest blog - he's great at them - about what U.S. soccer should do. There's a lot to Twellman's rant in the tweet above, but he does make some really good points.

The U.S. shouldn't be losing to Trinidad and Tobago with the World Cup on the line, not with all of the effort and money and players and everything else that U.S. soccer has going for it. This is one of those times where it's necessary to say "this isn't working" and start over.

Anyway, Barlow didn't commit to writing his guest blog, though TB senses there might be one in the near future. In the meantime, his suggestion for what U.S. Soccer should do to start to fix things?

"Hire Sean Driscoll."

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