The American soccer program has a long history of winning that is based not only on technical skill, but also a mentality that losing is not an option. It seems to get stronger as matches drag on and ruthlessly exploits whatever weakness an opponent has to overcome whatever strategy they’re using to stand in the team’s way. In fact, the strongest competition the team faces is for spots on its own roster. Of course this pertains to the US Women’s National Team.
They are winners and competitors in the purest sense even conniving to have managers replaced or shunning family members in favor of following a training regime that gives an edge. If you somehow combined the will to win of Tom Brady and Serena Williams and multiplied it by 11 and you have the spirit of the USWNT. This is not something that is shared by the USMNT and was not on display as the USMNT U-23 team lost to Honduras last night.
The game was pathetic and overall the US played badly in the tournament. Against Costa Rica the highlight was the performance of David Ochoa playing the game of his life to preserve a 1-0 win. Group stages in tournaments will have tough games like this, but it wasn’t an overall stellar performance. The team easily beat the Dominican Republic, but only after a fairly unsteady first half and several substitutions that clearly signaled a shift in the gameplan, whatever it was. With the game against Mexico, the USA conceded for the first time in the tournament, but the overall defensive approach to the game and entire qualification process hampered any ability to make a comeback.
The US really played badly and was outmatched by Honduras. Yes, David Ochoa made a mistake in goal, but the overall moment of that goal pales in comparison to the overall approach of the team in the tournament. Rather than trying to be on the front foot and take the game to the opponent from the start, the side relied on its defense which was outmatched time and again aside from the Dominican Republic game. This is not how you win a tournament or even come in second place in one.
Taylor Twellman, the distinguished statesman of deep cutting rants after disappointing losses, had this to say last night:
Obviously, the players share some responsibility for this, but the overall mentality and approach to the way they play is set by the coaching staff. After the game, Jason Kreis said this to reporters about what he told the team following the loss to try to pick them up:
Kreis' final words @ presser: "It's a fact of life that you lose more than you win. And it's always going to be about who gets up and moves forward the quickest ... these disappointments happen in your life over and over and over again and you have no choice but to move forward"— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) March 29, 2021
Right, ok Rocky, it’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you get hit and get back up. The point is though that you have to pick yourself up in the middle of the fight and get up, no champion sits around after a loss and laments that they lose more than they win.
Here’s what first came to my mind when I saw this:
This from the last match Kreis managed before becoming USMNT U-23 coach. In it, Orlando City lost its sixth game in a row and he blames the players for not trying hard enough. Aside from basically asking to get fired, this mindset should have disqualified him from being U-23 manager, or running an Arby’s or whatever. It is a mindset that the US Men’s program needs to erase from its vocabulary.
If Michael Jordan thought to himself after he got cut from his high school basketball team, “well, you lose more than you win” we would have to suffer through everyone talking about if John Stockton or Patrick Ewing was the best basketball player of the 90s, MJ never would have punched Steve Kerr in the face and nobody would know who Steph Curry is. This is the kind of stuff on the line here, not the Olympics, but the entire cascade of events and history that follows it. Do you really want to live in a world where Reggie Miller and Karl Malone have won NBA titles? That is the world US Men’s Soccer wants you to live in.
This is the kind of mentality that has a coach down a goal late in a Gold Cup Final against Mexico and he looks to his bench and uses his last sub on DANIEL LOVITZ. Luckily, some of the players on the senior squad seem to have a harder edge to their competitiveness than Kreis and possibly Berhalter. At the very least, Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie seem absolutely hellbent on being the best possible player they can be and challenging themselves at the highest level.
That said, setting the overall tone will come from Gregg Berhalter for the USMNT and changing the mentality from the one that Kreis feebly demonstrated to one in which the expectation is higher for the men’s program overall will need to be set by Sporting Director Earnie Stewart and General Manager Brian McBride. Frankly, they really do not need to look any further than to their counterparts on the USWNT for the culture of a champion.