With the U.S. national team playing less-than-noteworthy games against the likes of Cuba and Belize and D.C. United’s next gut-punching not due until Saturday, I haven’t had many match recaps to write lately. So I’m taking this opportunity to condense a few thoughts and a few Brek Shea hair jokes into a single column.
I’ll get to the Gold Cup in a second, but first: Sepp Blatter will ask FIFA to move the 2022 World Cup to the winter. This is outrageous — I am furious. Is FIFA just now realizing that Qatar gets Cornballer hot in the summer? I thought the only lesson Europeans did learn from the Crusades was that “Middle East = hot”. This should have been resolved before the selection was bought made. I remember that when Qatar rolled out their heat-mitigation plan, which was basically: “We’ll air-condition the open-air stadiums or something. Circular airflow, ceiling fans and all that. Window units. We’ll … you know, it’s 2022 — we’ll have the technology by then. Also this will be the greenest World Cup ever.” — my BS-detector blew a fuse. Is Blatter admitting that that plan was utter, total, saturated cow dung? And his solution is to put the most lucrative and closely followed leagues in the world on pause for two months? FIFA: move the tournament. Move it now. Scrap the results of that tainted process and start over.
Thoughts on other things …
— Other people see something in Brek Shea that I don’t. He’s tall, he’s fast, his hairstyle history closely mirrors the singer Pink and he’s only 23, so he might develop into a national team stalwart someday. But right now he looks like a player lacking some touch and finesse. Watching Shea reminds me of a chapter in the book “Soccernomics”; the authors found that scouts tend to overrate blonde players (presumably because they stick out). We already know that being blonde is an advantage if you want to host a show on Fox News or star in a Hitchcock film; apparently is gives you a leg up in soccer as well.
— I remained unconvinced by Chris Wondolowski and also I am a jerk. Wondo scored five goals in three Gold Cup games and my cynical reaction was “Meh — the opponents weren’t very good.” What was it, exactly, that I wanted Wondolowski to do? Break Pele’s career goal-scoring record in one game? Register a hat trick while nursing a nest full of baby birds back to health? Sure, Belize was so bad that reports of a match-fixing attempt mostly raised the question, “How insecure are these gamblers?” but he still made space, found the ball, and finished his chances when they came. And yet: I’m unconvinced.
— Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden remain national team starting 11 material. We’ve all watched someone and wished we had the gift that person possesses — maybe it was Yo Yo Ma, maybe it was LeBron James. For me it was Fred “Rerun” Berry — that cat could get down. The point is that some people are just touched, and Holden and Donovan have the talent level to be first-team contributors. That isn’t true for everyone on this roster. Of course, talent isn’t everything — Ryan Leaf was talented, Lindsay Lohan is talented — so Holden and Donovan still need to play their way back into top form. But they show enough touch and vision to remind you that they each have a very high ceiling.
— Holden is not injury prone. I’ve heard this idea many times in the past week, so let’s be clear: Saying that Holden is injury prone is like saying that Bethany Hamilton is shark-attack prone. Sometimes things just happen and it’s unlucky. The tackle that sidelined Holden for two years was a mugging; any non-athlete’s femur would have snapped like a celery stalk. Holden also had his leg broken by Nigel De Jong, but you could fill a tour bus with people who have had their legs broken by Nigel de Jong. John O’Brien was injury prone. Mr. Bill was injury prone. Holden just had stuff happen to his legs.
— This is the worst Mexican team I have ever seen. I should specify: This is the worst Mexican soccer team I have ever seen. The Mexican Nordic Combined team disappointed at the last Olympics. The Mexican cricket team underwhelms. But this team — which finished second in their group to Panama — looks suspect even when it wins. It was only a year ago that Mexico beat Brazil in the Olympic final and we were all talking about a once-in-a-lifetime generation of Mexican talent, so there’s still time for things to swing back in Mexico’s favor before the World Cup. But this Mexican team — a B-team, admittedly — looks eminently beatable. If the United States doesn’t win this Gold Cup — even though it also has brought its B-team — it will be an opportunity missed.