Nick Perera on Soccer View: Drawing Feels Like Losing
The World Cup has blown brackets and bets apart across the world. The reigning World Cup Champion Spain has been eliminated and The USA has more points than Portugal, nearly defeating them yesterday. Flash back in time to only a few months ago and ask yourself, did anyone think Dempsey could take on Ronaldo and have our USA team lead in a World Cup match?
Here is our new columnist, professional player Nick Perera on Drawing Feels Like Losing
USA’ Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has a busy man for quite some time now, between leaving Landon Donovan at home for what would have been his last World Cup in an illustrious career and figuring out how to replace Jozy Altidore who suffered a hamstring injury in the USA’s first World Cup match against Ghana. With these issues, along with everything else, Jurgen has been hard at work.
The United States were drawn into the “Group of Death”, with all the predictions saying we would have a torrid tournament, most likely leave with 0 points and embarrass ourselves in the process.
I must admit, I was a naysayer and freely predicted the same, however, what was not accounted for is the will, passion and fitness of our USA team.
To say that the USA team has exceeded expectations would be a huge understatement; it has completely shattered the picture the media presented of certain failure.
Yesterday’s game was a great day to be a USA fan. Klinsmann’s team has never been called “pretty” or particularly exciting, but I would argue that the way they played yesterday has given them a new international identity. I can guarantee that no team in the tournament will want to play against us from here on out.
Portugal is not a world-class caliber team anymore, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s performance was in no way impressive (even though he did produce a top quality cross to tie the game up), but still, we are talking about a team full of players who are regulars in the top European leagues, and who in almost all instances play Champions League soccer.
The United States is comprised of 11 guys whose annual salaries (excluding Dempsey) probably add up to about what Ronaldo pulls in at Real Madrid. We are talking about EPL level pedigree against what on paper looks like an MLS team. The game however, did not follow that, it was dictated by the USA and I think I can speak for all fans in saying that a draw against Portugal felt like a cruel failure.
It’s incredible to think that we went from talking about 0 points in 3 games to thinking that not picking up the resounding win against Portugal is a failure, but I believe it is. I have begun to set a new standard to this World Cup and I think it’s fair to say that if the tournament ended tomorrow, the performances and results they’ve earned would be more than incredible.
The beautiful thing about this is that the tournament doesn’t end tomorrow, and the USA can go into their last group game depending entirely on themselves. I can guarantee you that Germany are not taking the USA lightly anymore.
The biggest challenge the US will face and, which was evident in both of their opening games, is the inability to manage the clock properly during the key moments of the game. In short; manage their gamesmanship. Michael Bradley has fallen under harsh criticism for losing the ball that resulted in the late equalizer, but anyone who watched the Ghana game would know that it wasn’t the first time the team was unable to ride out the clock properly.
The Italian National Team is famous for getting up a goal, and then, the circus begins. Players begin to fake cramps, substitutions take forever because the player cleverly shakes everyone’s hand and walks off slowly, the ball seems to be lost every time it goes out of bounds, it’s an art form. Anyone who has coached soccer at any level knows just how infuriating this is, and how difficult it is for the game to have any rhythm or pace to it.
In the Ghana win, Bradley ran the ball down the right wing with the clock dying down and instead of holding it up in the corner and drawing a foul, he ended up giving the ball away for what was Ghana’s last possession.
I’ve noticed it so many times coaching younger age groups, where the ball will run out of bounds with almost no time left, your team is winning and your player eagerly and anxiously sprints to get it to quickly to resume the game.
It’s cultural, Americans don’t believe in “cheating” the clock.
In Italy, that little kid wouldn’t think twice about it, he would leisurely walk after the ball and take his sweet time to throw it in, if the clock didn’t expire before he got the chance.
In order to win at the international level, you need street smarts. You simply cannot permit that in the last minute of play, the other team gets one last chance. I don’t blame Klinsmann, I don’t even blame Bradley, I blame it on fact that American soccer has not picked up on that level of gamesmanship yet. It also derives from another one of my pet peeves in youth soccer: grouping players by age first. I grew up in Europe, playing street soccer in my neighborhood with the other kids, and the one thing that teaches you gamesmanship is playing against older, bigger, meaner kids. If you are a competitive person you will need to find out ways to win, at any cost, and butting heads with the local bullies usually ends badly, so you have to figure out how to out-smart them, out-think them, and managing the clock is just one of the many lessons you learn.
Ultimately, the USA has done incredibly well, will continue to do so and will progress out of the group, but until they learn how to close out games properly, fans around the country should be fully prepared to be chewing their nails until that last whistle goes.