Before we get to the Team USA-bashing, I just thought I should mention that back in the world of baseball, Jeff Francis pitched another superb game as the Rockies won a low-scoring game on the road in Washington. It doesn't mean much if they don't follow it up with a series win, but if Colorado really doesn't have all the pieces in place for this year (which they don't) all we as fans can hope for its continued development from their young stars. Francis is developing. He's only 5-5 but his ERA is 3.76 and his batting average against is .211. The Rockies aren't good enough to deserve more than, say, two All-Stars, and those guys should be Brian Fuentes and Matt Holliday. But Francis is the rare pitching prospect who's turning into all they said he could be. It's nice.
OK, Czech Republic 3, USA 0. This game was brutal. If you watched the Italy-Ghana match immediately following, even more so, because it's obvious that the Ghanians in the person of Michael Essien have a difference-making star, which the US lacks. Unless their performance dramatically changes between now and Saturday, the American soccer team is going 0-3 with a goal differential that will very probably place them dead last in the field of 32. This should not come as a huge surprise, really. Intelligent, unbiased commentators have been saying that the US would need a miracle to advance out of Group E since the draw. Unfortunately none of these people work for ESPN. The amount of utter crap that has been shoveled upon the unsuspecting American soccer viewer regarding the home team's chances in this tournament has been completely ridiculous. During the Japan-Australia game yesterday, the "bottom line" ran an hours-minutes-seconds countdown to the US game, as if it was some sort of event. Never mind the fact that both Japan and Australia would crush the US on a neutral field right now, and played a fabulously entertaining game with an wild, unlikely finish -- the Australians scoring their first World Cup goal ever, then their second and third, all in the last six minutes. This almost managed to go unnoticed by the American TV crew, which like every ESPN World Cup broadcast group seemed to be hooked up to electrodes which would shock them violently if they went five minutes without hyping Team USA.
What's really amazing is given the wildly disproportionate amount of airtime given to "breaking down" the US-Czech matchup, nobody stated the obvious, which is that the Czech team was way, way more talented, way, way more experienced, and way, way less likely to completely crash and burn than serial European failure Landon Donovan and the ugly Americans. ESPN and ABC's approach to the World Cup has been to completely buy into to a self-defeating nugget of accepted wisdom, which is that in order for soccer to catch on in the US, the American team has to be good at it. If the networks spent a minute of their time talking about the other 31 teams in the field, is it possible that American fans would be interested in the hundreds of great stories that don't involve the third-rate talent of their national team and their fourth-rate professional league? In advance of the Italy-Ghana game, which was in question until the very end and featured some inspired play from world-class players on both sides, the only thing ESPN's flag-wavin' experts could offer is vain hope that the two sides might tie so that the US's chances of advancing could survive on life support for another few days. Oh, and let's just look at these "experts" for a second. If no one watched any of the recent World Cups in the U.S., why is ESPN resuscitating the public careers of every bit player on those unmemorable American teams? And could those electrodes perhaps be put to better use punishing these "journalists" for their constant subsitution of the word "we" for "the Americans?" Does anybody care what Julie Foudy thinks? If Tommy Smyth is being upheld as the lone ESPN paragon of truth in reporting and plain talk, clearly, something is very wrong. The nadir in my opinion occurred during "World Cup Live" yesterday when an unbroken 90 minutes of bleating about Bruce Arena's master plan for the Italians was paused for a report on Ronaldhino -- yes, best player in the world Ronaldhino -- which lasted a full 20 seconds. Stop the insanity.
I don't speak enough Spanish to switch over permanently to Univision, and sadly, my interest in the real stories behind the Copa Mundial is such that I can't think of another way to get news like the incredible disappearance and reappearance of Togo's coach without just enduring the jingoism. You know what this is like? Imagine if for the MLB playoffs last year every single moment of every preview show, plus huge chunks of the game broadcasts, were dedicated to discussing the Padres. ESPN and ABC seem dead set on justifying the hysterical imbalance of their programming thus far by continuing to behave as if the Americans are any kind of story up until and perhaps even past the moment of their mathematical elimination. This is illogical. Don't they want US eyes tuning into the knockout stages? Wouldn't this maybe be a good time to look around and start informing their audience about the teams that might actually have a chance of winning? At this point I would even welcome one of those cheesy NBC Olympics-style puff pieces about the triumph of the human spirit in Togo or Ivory Coast or wherever. Man, I can't even express how much I don't care about Claudio Reyna. I want my Shaka Hislop!
So, having said all that...did you watch the actual game? What did you think? Does a team that left one guy completely unmarked down the right flank five minutes into their first World Cup game, then saw their entire back line left flat-footed against a vanilla through pass for a blowout-ensuring third goal, have a chance of beating Italy? No, they don't. (The second goal that the Czechs scored, I think we can all agree, was just a dazzling, unstoppable play. One that was set up by a botched US clear attempt, yeah, but whatever.) At this point the Americans' goal should be to not finish 32nd. That will be an uphill climb given the intensity with which the less talented teams in the tourney (not that there are many of them) have played so far.