"Soccer is a game of mistakes. We have made too many," Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias said as he sat in his office in RFK Stadium last week, looking tired and rumpled after a two-hour practice in 95-degree heat.
"Every game we have lost this year was because of mistakes we made, not because of great plays by the opposition," he said.
Mistakes such as poor passes, bad shots and a lack of communication on the field have left Team America with a four-game losing streak and a record of 8-9 halfway into its inaugural season. Saturday night, Team America blew a 2-0 lead, giving up three goals in a 15-minute span in the second half in a 3-2 loss to the Strikers at Fort Lauderdale.
"To tell the truth, I had hoped we'd be doing better," said defender Hayden Knight. "Some games we seem to go into with a lot of emotion. But other times . . . ".
"Maybe we just need a player to go out there and take charge," said Jeff Durgan, the team captain.
Team America is tied for last in the NASL's Southern Division with Tampa Bay. Their point totals of 56 are next to lowest in the league.
Despite a respectable record, especially for a first-year expansion team, and the league's third-highest average attendance (19,953 in seven games), Team America is in danger of dropping out of the playoff race. Eight teams (three division winners and five wild cards) will qualify, and Team America would not advance if the season ended today.
Team America does have an advantage over its division rivals, with eight of its final 13 games at home.
"We're having the same problems now that we had at the beginning of the year," said Durgan. "Our midfield hasn't played that well and we've had trouble finishing."
Team America has scored only 19 goals, 11th best in the league. And one of those goals was an "own" goal yielded by the Cosmos and three have been awarded for winning shootouts. Three of the other 15 goals have come off dead ball plays (a penalty kick, two corner kicks).
The team tends to crumble after being scored upon. In four of the five games in which it failed to score first, it lost, allowing 11 goals.
The midfield can be blamed for much of Team America's lack of creativity and spirit. Instead of becoming a force this season, it has served as a weak link between the front line and the defense. None of Team America's midfielders has ever been asked to carry a team before. They are used to playing off the crafty moves of foreign stars.
"My players came with all the mediocrities of neglected players," said Panagoulias. "Up to now, no one has ever told them how to play or cared about their future. It will take time for them to adjust."
Injuries have contributed to Team America's lack of consistency. Panagoulias has been unable to field the same starting lineup more than once, and starters Alan Green, Alan Merrick, Arnie Mausser, Ringo Cantillo and Chico Borja have been sidelined for extended periods of time. Sonny Askew will be out indefinitely with a shoulder injury incurred at Fort Lauderdale.