Saturday's U.S. Soccer friendly ... and the dangers of grand pronouncement

U.S. defender Jonathan Spector ... Did well in Saturday's friendly at center back, but let's not get carried away

If we equate soccer to real life, international friendlies are a little like on-line dating – good for an initial weeding out, but maybe not for a whole lot more.

Oh, you may occasionally strike gold and turn up a Jim Dandy or a Jill Dandy.

But the best part is weeding out the weirdoes and rabbit boilers. From there, you may sometimes like what you see, but you can’t really assess the talent until you’ve turned up the heat for a while.

You tell the most about folks by watching how they react under pressure, like when the in-laws swing by for a three-week heaping of misery.

Back to soccer: it’s much the same when national teams and friendlies. They really aren't important. (Unless it’s against Italy, in which case your top striker might get his ankle mangled by an over zealous tackler. I speak of Robin van Persie’s injury, of course … but never mind that for now.)

Here we all are examining Saturday's U.S. match, a loss to Slovakia, a World Cup qualifier. But if we’re being honest, well let’s just say that I wouldn’t go rushing for Las Vegas with fists full of cash, ready to plunk it down on Slovakia to win it all this summer at South Africa. Or to make it out of their group, for that matter.

Slovakia? Eh. Not terrible but certainly not terribly impressive. So where does that leave the United States? That’s the point: the best you can tell from these friendlies is who just can't cope individually with the international level. Trying to draw greater conclusion is frequently a fool’s errand.

People generally get it that results don’t matter. But they do tend to assign a bit too much value to individual assessment.

For instance, Jonathan Spector played at center back and did reasonably well.  Robbie Rogers did OK along the right side.  Not great, but OK.

(By the way, I keep hearing about “potential” when it comes to Rogers. Which is fine, as long as you’re talking about the 2014 World Cup and such. I’m telling you right now, 'potential' isn't what you want lining up next summer in South Africa. Because there’s also significant “potential” for a flop if you deploy individuals not up for the job.)

There were other little victories individually, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The same will happen Wednesday in Denmark, when the United States takes on the Scandinavians.

Again, please use caution. “Step away from the grand, over-reaching pronouncements! Just do as you’re told here, and no one needs to get hurt!”

The bottom line is that pressure changes things, sometimes drastically. It’s all well and good to do it against a middling team on some random Saturday with a few thousand people in the stands and absolutely zero at stake at the team level.

By the way, I’ve written all this before. But it seems like a lesson that never really takes. It’s a little like what happens (or used to happen) on Saturday nights. We go out. We get, uh, over-served. And the next thing you know it’s Sunday morning and our hung-over little heads are super-glued to the pillow.

“I’ll never drink again.”

Of course, it doesn’t take and it’s rinse-repeat for the next cycle.

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