” It was just a C team” goes the mantra.
For some this is just a simple retort to accept and write off a 5-0 loss to your biggest rivals who were also playing without the majority of their top players (in fact, I would note before this tournament started Gerrado Torrado was the only El Tri player on this roster guaranteed to start at Azteca August 12th and that would be in a different spot on the pitch than where he played in the Gold Cup)
You can be rest assured Bob Bradley doesn’t take this approach. He’s rightfully embarrassed by the performance and will spend the next two weeks diligently preparing with his staff to ensure it never happens again. But for some of our fans, many who have criticized Bradley in the past, the result is being spun in a way that the American coach to his credit will not do- blaming the officials, blaming the player selections, or saying the tournament did not matter.
The fact of the matter is, that 5-0 score-lines in competitive matches are very rare in CONCACAF, when the small island nations of the Caribbean or traditional baseball countries Nicaragua and Panama are not involved. Even when the US was struggling to be relevant in the region between 1958 and 1989, the US never lost a competitive match by five goals, especially on American soil.
Even outside of CONCACAF, 5-0 score-lines are rare in major tournaments. Heck England only scored three goals on Andorra in 2007 and the Republic of Ireland needed a stoppage time goal to beat San Marino the same year. The two losing nations had a grand total between them of one professional player.
The previous low water marks in my lifetime for the US National team were a 6-0 drubbing to France, in a 1979 friendly, which I truthfully do not recall and a 1985 5-0 loss to England. which I remember well, largely because the US had just been eliminated from World Cup 1986 qualification days earlier, and those of us young players who had grown up playing this sport (and in my case, no other organized team sport) saw the end of our hopes to ever play at a high level on a sad day in Torrance. (As it turns out we qualified unexpectedly in 1990 and have been a regional power ever since)
But the history of the US in this sport prior to 1989 has to be considered “pre-history” at least at the national team level. Obviously at the club level, the success of the NASL is considered by some a “golden age” of American football or at least a romanticized age which today is nostalgia driven.
So since 1989, the US has never been on the end of a score-line so one sided. Surely to satisfy those fans who want to write off this game, the US has never fielded such a weakened team, right?
At a time when the US had no truly professional first division (the APSL the forerunner of today’s USL-1 could be considered semi-professional at the time) and when few if any American players outside of John Harkes and Paul Caligiuri were getting real looks in Europe, Bora Milutinovic fielded several less than full strength US squads against big powers that arguably had zero truly professional players. (These were matches where Harkes, Tab Ramos, Caliguiri, and other Americans actually contracted to a club side were not available) But yet those teams played with pride, played for the shirt and never got beat 5-0 by anyone, even in trips to the Azteca or Brazil.
As it turns out, every member of Bora’s teams save one or two became a professional and went on to at least a half decent playing career whether in the APSL, which by the mid 1990s was more professional, in MLS, in Mexico or in Europe. But at the time when many of these games were played, all Bora had was a rag tag group of players contracted to the USSF and living in Mission Viejo.
Under Steve Sampson, and Bruce Arena the US fielded many under strength sides. Who can forget the June 2001 friendly against Ecuador, which Arena used in the middle of a tough World Cup qualifying haul to cap several players for the first time? Or how about the 1997 2-1 loss in China that featured Marcelo Balboa, Eric Wynalda and nine other guys who were MLS based and not being given serious looks for the future. (Brian McBride was one of those guys and he turned out well- but the others like Dan Calichman, Steve Pittman, Miles Joseph and Martin Vasquez have been largely forgotten by everyone except Jurgen Klinsmann).
Bob Bradley took a young, inexperienced team to Copa America two years ago and despite the unflattering score-lines, not for a single minute in that tournament did the US look as a pathetically outclassed as it did after minute 55 on Sunday. Even against Argentina and their four goal assault, the US looked more competitive and organized with the likes of Hercules Gomez, Justin Mapp and Eddie Gaven on the field than on Sunday.
So, in fact what we have is a low water mark in the modern era for the US National Team. It can be spun as not mattering, but when you eliminate a psychological hurdle from your biggest rival, whose talent level is generally comparable or superior to your own, you have issues. Thankfully, Bob Bradley understands this sport and the national team program greater than that of the cadre of American fans who claim that the game Sunday doesn’t matter and should be quickly forgotten. Bradley’s post-match comments about taking lessons from this game, admitting it was not acceptable to lose 5-0, and not throwing specific players or the referee under the bus (as Bruce Arena surely would have done) was all class, and once again demonstrated why he is in this job.