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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bittersweet Win for USA

            From scaring world-class opposition to scaring fan faithful, the United States Men’s National Team has enjoyed its own personal Halloween vacation through the past year.  After last night’s 2-1 win over El Salvador, the latter was the more prevalent.  And with the World Cup less than a year away, it would be nice if this weren’t the case.

            Inconsistency has become the USA’s theme for the year of 2009.  Let’s rewind back to January 24 when the red, white, and blue defeated Sweden in a game highlighted by Sacha Kljestan’s thrilling hat trick.  Despite the fact that this was basically a B-team clash for each side, the USMNT began the year on the right foot: A win over a quality European nation with a brilliant performance from a highly-touted up-and-coming talent.  Less than 3 weeks later, things couldn’t have been better when the Americans handily dealt with the Mexicans 2-nil in Columbus.

            Things weren’t all good for long, though.  Before World Cup qualifying took its summer vacation, the USA finished the spring at 3-2, struggling to draw El Salvador and suffering an embarrassing 3-1 defeat in Costa Rica.  At this, the Americans’ victories over Trinidad &Tobago and Honduras salvaged little satisfaction.

            Then, came the famed Confederations Cup showing.  When the USA lost to Italy and Brazil in their first two group B matches, American soccer was no further along than it was 10 years ago, nothing but an afterthought in the world’s great sporting nation.  But when the USMNT crushed Egypt, beat Spain, and took Brazil to the brink in the World Cup tune-up’s championship, American soccer was at its pinnacle, a world-class side now to be reckoned with.

            Come mid-August, approaching the infamous Azteca match, the message to the Mexicans was in: Beware.  The newly-rejuvenated USA was destined to end its winless streak on Mexican soil.  However, finding it hard to escape tradition, the Americans crumbled upon a 1-0 lead, eventually falling 2-1 to a relentless Mexican side.

            Now, despite a 2-1 USA victory last night, the post-game mood is bittersweet.  The result is nonetheless a great one for the United States, but as we put this year in perspective, there are a few distressing details that at this point cannot be ignored.  The common denominator amongst all their CONCACAF matches the past eight months is that the Americans have not won on foreign soil once.  The ability to win away from home is crucial in advancing American soccer to a higher level.

            More importantly, too often the USMNT play to the level of their opponents.  This is fantastic when our national team is taking on the likes of Spain and Brazil, but terribly detrimental when facing much weaker CONCACAF opponents, which much more often is the case.  As happened Saturday night, the Americans should not find themselves struggling through a must-win situation against a team like El Salvador.

            We do not have long of a wait to see how our national team follows up last night’s performance, however.  On Wednesday, the USMNT is set to take on Trinidad & Tobago in the Port of Spain, Trinidad.  T&T are admittedly a weak side, but the location of this match gives the USA a challenge it is in desperate need of.  A win is obviously the only option, but should America perform well away from home, its fan faithful may be able to ease their worries—just a bit.

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