Story by Gray Shades
First off, I take full blame for the debacle that was American Footy yesterday. All of my plans went to shit from the moment of waking up. It started Sunday night, when I never received the text or email from Editors manager and fellow World Cup German traveler Rob Whitaker about the train from Liverpool Street to Stanstead City Airport in London would take 50 minutes, not the 15 he had earlier told me. So I woke up Monday morning, intent on working out before flying off to Germany for the match. Since my hotel does not have a gym, and finding a shop that hires (rents) a bicycle in the middle of London is impossible, I was forced to do a form of exercise I've not done since Reagan was President and the US wasn't in the World Cup. Jogging. Blech. After my 1-2 mile run in Regent's Park, my timing was all spot on for the thought 30-40 minute combined tube and train to the airport. Lo and behold, when I get to Liverpool Station, Rob gets through to let me know it's 50 minutes on the train, making the flight to Dusseldorf looking grim at best.
In what seemed like a strong omen, Rob sweet-talked the Czech woman manning the Air Berlin counter and when I'd finished a full throttle run from the bowels of the train to the terminal, she had my ticket ready and pointed me on to security. I literally had less than 10 minutes to make the flight, which fortunately boarded late. By the time I turned the corner and made the gate as the last one on, I was feeling lucky for the US side, if not full on drenched with sweat. After this scare, we had to be engaged as a side. On the flight were a handful of US fans, all decked in the national jersey--another surprise of the morning. Hmmm, maybe there's more of us US footy fans than anticipated.
Arrived in Dusseldorf shortly after 2pm and dropped our crap at the hotel and hopped back in the cab for the 90 Euro ride to Gelsenkirchen. Waiting at the stadium for our Czech ticket provider David turned out to be the lengthiest time spent Monday, but we passed it drinking with the crowd milling about outside the stadium from about 4:15 onwards. Again the shocker: the amount of Americans actually there. By the time we entered the grounds, it's safe to say a full one third of the crowd was in US red, white and blue as opposed to the Czech Red white and blue...fans from Washington state, Boston, SF, Texas (a lot, go figure), Virginia. Finally David showed up, handed us our tickets and with a call to Aaron Borns informing him we were in, it was upstairs to the seats.
The Gelsenkirchen ground is magnificent. Yeah, it's full of the German-French-Euro modern Industrial glass, streamlined Pompaneou type design, but from our "obstructed view" seats, the sight was stunning. Fifth row of the second deck (sorry, upper terrace), my view was "blocked" only by the railing, which is to say it wasn't. I could see every patch of grass on the field and I had two beers beneath my seat for consumption. I've been to a Rose Bowl (for the national championship), the deciding game of the World Series, the NBA Finals, the NCAA college basketball tournament and final, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, The Olympics, a Boston Red Sox home opener, Luton Vs Watford, and seen the Toledo Mudhens play. None compares to sitting at a World Cup soccer match. Intensity, spirit, presence, the actual feeling THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING, BUT I'M ACTUALLY THERE. All of those things transgress through the mind. Czech fans making crazy noise all over the stadium, US fans making unified noise all over the stadium, all on the most spectacular of days.
Then I look down on the field. No Eddie Johnson starting, instead the odd, rarely used combination of Donovan-McBride. Keller is calling the team together for a last second chat before kick-off and fucking Bobby Convey is late coming to the circle because he's waving hello to people in the stands. That's not loose and relaxed, that's just dumb! The Czechs are huge. I mean they're trees and Koller looks like Peter Garrett's long lost brother, but without the awkward dance moves. Match starts and the Czechs are so cool and collected it's scary. Yes, a far superior team in a game we played below our skill level crushed us. Still, the Czech kicked our ass and might have done the same to all in the field, but maybe Brazil yesterday. Patience, precision, a smooth flow. The hot day for the aged Czech side meant nothing except their own keen awareness of when to lie back and when to shift gears.
The Czech guy next to me barks about "the fix being in" when his side earns a very early offside call. Moments later Onweyu garners the yellow for a hard foul on Nedved. This is a big deal a minute later because it leaves Pope to mark Koller on the brilliant pass, run and cross from Crygera to Kollers noggin--one which he didn't have to move or jump for 'cause it was placed right on his head. Koller had tossed Pope aside on the cross as though he were tissue paper. Spectacular in it's fierceness.
For the next 30 minutes we actually do OK. At times there's semblance of movement, but usually only when Reyna is completely guiding the play. Claudio being the only American who showed up. McBride looks out of place and any aerial exploits are immediately neutralized thanks to the size of the Czech backline. Doesn't matter how good you are in the air if the guys you're up against jump as well and have a 2-3" height advantage. Sadly, two of the most important players to the US effort put in a performance, which would get them benched at St. John's. Beasley and Convey are pathetic, each in completely different ways. Beasley's complete lack of composure, ability to control any ball and absolute discomfort with being on the right is sore thumb noticeable. Convey is invisible on the left. He keeps waving his hand in the air for the ball, but Eddie Lewis is the one charging it up from behind him and Convey stands, not moving anywhere. Mastreoni is only noticed because anytime the ball gets near him he manages to trip on his cleats. (Honestly, the US team fell down so much; you have to wonder if the equipment manager put the wrong spikes out for the boys.) The two positive moments: Donovan on a decent run through the middle, earning a foul that we took nowhere and Reyna's shot which easily beat the Czech defense and goalkeeper, but hit the wood 2 inches to far left--worse because Beasley was actually centered for the rebound, but the ball caromed far right where he had just vacated. Yet this burst is not repeated: no one grasps the concept of the hard run to at least draw the foul or the idea of the shot from the top of the box when there's some space. Steve Zapp (fellow traveler and scouser) notes after the game the one thing the US didn't seem to notice was the questionable communication between the Czech central defenders and how it may have been exploitable. All of this is rendered obvious when Rosicky's first goal comes a few minutes later--that crushing, rocketing shot from 30 yards that was as gorgeous a goal as Koller's. The Czech's are putting on a clinic and we are the mules to their thoroughbreds.
Finally Arena sends Johnson on for the second half and he adds some life to the team, nearly knocking in a shot from distance. But the John O'Brien substitution proves useless when a midfield collision less than 10 minutes into the half seems to wound the questionably fit, questionably tough midfielder. He joins Convey in invisible land for the remainder of the half. Rosicky's second is a thing of beauty as well and while most of our guys may appear the fitter side (you should have seen the Czech players sucking wind at every opportunity), we certainly have no idea how to harness the energy. Afterwards, Rob agrees with me that the US played slightly worse and unorganized than England had on Sunday, but the difference is in the world-class standard of the Czech side (I realize you Brit friends will be yapping about three points, but you played like crap and T&T showed up for Sweden, so watch out). They played dominant football and hopefully the US took the hard lesson and can transfer it to some kind of performance against the Italians. A Czech-Brazil quarterfinal could be stunning.
After the match, it's a few more beers to drown the sorrows and enjoy the scene, before hopping the train into Gelsenkirchen. American supporters and Czech fans mix everywhere--playful, knowledgeable, both suddenly rooting on Ghana against the Italians. This may be a nowhere town, but it's crazy tonight with beer and food everywhere. And tons of smart US footy fans about, fans who were on their third, fourth, fifth World Cups of supporting the US side. One guy had gone every year since 1986, and we weren't even in that one.
Bruce Arena has to make some smart changes for Saturday and do an emotional fire-up. EJ has to start up front against Italy and figure to play the whole game. With 13 stitches in his face, Brian Ching is pointless, but a 4-3-3 line-up might be necessary against Italy. McBride-Johnson-Donovan up front, Reyna flanked by Olsen and Mastroeni and a backline of Dempsey, Pope, Onweyu & Conrad. Maybe make the switch in goal to Howard. Wolff has to continue to be the guy off the bench, but we have to attack with speed and a desire to shoot the fucking ball.
I hate this feeling, which I've had before. It feels like 1998 in the making.
Gray Shades is a questionable writer and pseudo scenester who's infiltrated The Tripwire and FADER through a unique combination of nepotism, substandard computer hacking and an unpublished collection of blackmail photos that would shame many an indie rocker. Once a West Coast legend in college radio, and quite hated at that, of late Gray Shades is much more of a wanderer who's observations and opinions of the world sound much more bright and intelligent to him than those he foists it on. That being said, he's actually polite, circumcised, knows a good scotch, loves to cook and owns a crazy dog named Trixie who's already a FADER favorite.