defenders, false hopes, expectations

Brian Straus:

Cameron was a goat at the World Cup, then he was an option at multiple positions, then clearly the USA’s best center back, and then back on the bench after the Costa Rica loss. John Brooks was imperious — perhaps the best prospect at the position in national team history — until he was exposed last November. But then his stock climbed again. And then he got hurt again. Gonzalez was good at the World Cup, then inconsistent with the national team, then a champion at Pachuca, etc. Ream was out of the picture then became the flavor of the month. As Ream rose, Matt Besler — who was very good in San Pedro Sula — seemed to fall. Fans, coaches and media anoint and then unanoint American center backs with regularity, but the fact remains that none have remained good enough or healthy enough to seize obvious and permanent control of the position. If the USA had world-class center backs, it would be Germany or Italy.

Well … No. not Germany or Italy. (Midfield creativity continues to be wholly absent, and finishing inconsistent at best.) But surely not struggling just to arrive, breathless and exhausted, as one of the last passengers on the World Cup Bus.

Straus’s overall point is absolutely right, though: the inconsistency of USMNT defenders is of long standing and is rather remarkable to behold. Nobody plays well on a regular basis — nobody even plays well a third of the time — but everybody back there has an occasional good game that casuses supporters to think Maybe he finally figured it out. However: hopes are dashed. Every hope for USMNT defending — and for the national team more generally — is dashed.

We are who we thought we were: a mediocre soccer nation whose fans — and, more important, whose players, coaches, and leaders — are perfectly happy if we make the World Cup, and tickled pink if we get to the knockout round. Until the expectations change, neither will the player performances or the results. Those truths can be seen most clearly in how the team defends, but apply elsewhere as well.