Another year down and the United States national team finds itself doing the major tournament post mortem, this time following the Copa America Centenario. The 100-year anniversary of the South American championship was expanded to 16 teams, shipped north, and enjoyed record-breaking attendance. How’d the US do?
Not bad, if we’re being perfectly honest, going out in the semifinal to Argentina and losing to Colombia (for the second time) in the consolation match. Along the way we won our group, held off Ecuador (currently second in South America’s brutal World Cup Qualifying proceeding), and reached the goal that manager Jurgen Klinsman set for us.
Are we completely happy? Of course not, these are US soccer fans we’re talking about! We’re a notoriously fickle bunch. I, myself, still think Klinsman isn’t very good at the actual game managing stuff (which is, you know, important). The lineup he chose for the Argentina game was like waving a white flag (or a red flag in front of a bull – take your choice) and had not even the slimmest chances of winning. But do I think the right lineup would have beaten Messi and company? Almost certainly not. Still, might as well go down fighting.
More importantly, let’s keep the whole thing in perspective. The FIFA rankings (flawed as they are) of the Copa semifinalists was 1 (Argentina), 3 (Chile), 8 (Colombia), and . . . 32 (United States). We were punching above our weight. Maybe we could have done it better, but at the end of the say, it seems like things fell about where they should.
Besides, it could have been worse. Mexico was humiliated by Chile, 7-1:
Yeah, we got bounced 4-0 by Argentina, but that’s still kind of reasonable. And it was in the semifinal, not the quarterfinal. And, for all our faults that night, we never gave up.
Beyond that, consider what befell the birthplace of the game, England, yesterday in the European Championships:
Iceland has a total population of about 330,000 people – that’s one-sixth the size of West Virginia, not to mention England.
And that’s not even considering a power like Brazil and Uruguay, who failed to make it out of their groups at the Copa, or the Dutch who didn’t even qualify for the expanded 24-team Euros!
I’m not saying I think the US is better than we actually are. But we’re not that bad, either. We pretty consistently do well in tournaments like this, even if we want to do better. It’s important not to lose that drive to improve. In the process, we shouldn’t give short shrift to what we actually achieve.