Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of the "British condition" when it comes to soccer. There is frequent presumption of superiority and self-importance about the game. They invented it. They know it better than anyone else. And they’ll tell you so, if only in their quintessentially understated British way.
That said, their historical stacks of knowledge do rise much higher than the Americans’ historical base. They do know plenty about the game’s ins and outs. And every now and then something happens that reminds us of it.
About this U.S. Soccer decision to battle Spain on the eve of a tournament they had stamped "High Priority," I’m picturing a scene like this:
A few UK soccer execs, a mix of managers and officials, are standing around after a practice, chit-chatting about the just-completed weekend of international matches. Someone mentions with an uppity chuckle about the United States getting its pants pulled down by Spain.
Chap A: "Aren’t they about to play in the Gold Cup, or something? Isn’t that their big regional tournament."
Chap B: "Yeah. There’s a place in the Confederations Cup at stake. Who wouldn’t want that?"
Chap A: "So why in the bloody hell would they take on the best team in the world? And just three days before a tournament opener? Don’t the Yanks know anything?"
Chap C: "Well, they do have In-N-Out Burger. So there’s that."
Then they all have a little laugh and move on to lunch plans, confident that the English FA or any other more worldly association would never make such a mistake.
And you know, in this case, they might be right – as much as I hate to admit it.
In my mind, U.S. Soccer was a little naïve here.
Read on for more on U.S. Soccer’s schedule management. Click here for my U.S.-Spain game report and player ratings at SI.com. Or click here for the overall Gold Cup preview, including thumbnail sketches on all 12 teams.
I don’t think Sunil Gulati and Co. thought this one all the way through. Gulati is an economics instructor by trade, and a sharp cookie, in my opinion. Along with U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn, they brought some fiscal sanity to soccer’s governing body; the federation’s accounting and balance sheets were badly mangled back in the late 1990s and into the new decade.
So, from that perspective, the decision to play Spain looks brilliant. Obviously, it was always going to be a nice payday. But from a competitive standpoint, they might have missed the boat on this one. If they needed a match to ramp up for Gold Cup, there was an entire menu of mid-level opponents available.
U.S. Soccer will say, and has said, that opportunities like this don’t come along often. But is that really the case? The United States has hosted Brazil, Argentina and now Spain all in the last eight months. So, it looks to me like these juicy opportunities are falling at a pretty nice clip.
If the United States beats Canada on Tuesday and gets the Gold Cup effort heading in the right direction, all can be forgiven. Hopefully, however, an important lesson has been learned here.