Hardcore soccer fans may appreciate the sport for a number of reasons. As a guy who likes to pay attention to the tactical side, the continuum of style and substance runs the gamut in this sport unlike any other.
No contrast may be more striking than between the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday and the US Men’s 2-1 victory over Honduras last night. If a new convert to the game tuned into FOX Sports 1 last night, they may have received a shock.
The Women’s World Cup final from Vancouver was a fireworks display right from the get-go. It was a fast-paced attack fest from the United States, sucker punching a Japan team and nearly TKO’ing them before they had a chance to launch a riposte. While the latter parts of the match were more tepid in their fervor, the excitement of the moment helped to extend the fever aroused by that early flurry of goals.
Fast forward to last night’s Gold Cup match, and you saw what most who follow the men’s game in this Confederation might call “CONCACAF ball.” It’s rarely pretty, typically feisty, and occasionally nasty. It’s marked by referees that vary from incompetent to quite clearly biased. In these types of matches, a team like the United States must foremost consider survival an important goal as much as scoring goals. That survival takes two forms: a) not getting yourself sent off for a borderline challenge, and b) not getting your leg destroyed by a flagrant tackle that goes unpunished.
That leads to a style that often looks disjointed for the USMNT, relying heavily on toothless possession that begets a few key set pieces. If they score on those, they typically win. If they don’t, things go from ugly to wretched pretty quickly.
Fortunately for Jurgen Klinsmann’s bunch last night, they scored on two of them, which outnumbered the singular goal earned in the run of play by Honduras. The Catrachos were the more incisive team, using the counter to expose defenders like Tim Chandler and Ventura Alvarado at the back, while making one wonder if 33-year old Kyle Beckerman has outlasted his stay in the national team.
Maybe some of our response to the “good enough” performance last night was biased by our observation of that women’s final, of how soccer can be when it’s pleasing our senses to the greatest extreme. Or maybe it was just “good enough.” Who knows?
The good news is that most of us went from the high of whatever soccer event turned us on to the sport, to that next match that wasn’t so exhilarating. And we still hung on.