The US Men’s National Team training camp in Princeton has not provided a lot of news. This is frustrating to fans combing the internets for indications of Coach Bob Bradley’s intentions to fill the many question marks in his line up, and Soccer in the US could probably benefit from a small window of media attention that it gets around the World Cup every four years. But it’s probably a good thing for the team who are burdened with a double set of expectations.
The expectations for the US team tend to be framed in the context of a mainstream media that goes into full butt-covering mode after years of explaining away editorial prejudice by calling soccer “boring”, “unathletic” or even, in the famous words of one gridiron shill, “a commie, pansy sport.”
Informed readers will notice quite a bit of fantastical evaluations of the team from writers who are accustomed to American sports leagues, where a common occurence is a fairly lightly-regarded team getting on a five game hot streak and going to the Super Bowl. This is the same fantasy world where a team from the East can beat a team from the Midwest, and be declared “World Champion”, though neither of them has actually played the world.
This World Cup is a true world championship, with 200 plus teams starting out, and the last 32 contesting the Cup. Surprises do happen (especially in Mundiales where the host is not particularly strong), but only seven coutries have ever actually won. The wheels of change in International Football turn slowly.
For the players, the pressure to prove soccer is a sport worthy of this sudden media attention is conflated with the pressure to beat teams with far better development systems and experienced players. Those who follow the team know that the reality is that the team is young, and speedy (far from “unathletic”), but still lacks the vision and subtlety of touch required to consistently win at top levels. It will be a step up for them to just play consistent football versus heavyweights or even other pretenders from Europe and Africa, whom they’ve always struggled against. This year, they are placed in a group composed of just such teams, England, Slovenia and Algeria.
The first indication of how they’ll do comes Tuesday and Saturday, as they take on Czech Republic and Turkey, respectively. These are strong European squads which significantly, got beaten out of WC spots by other, stronger teams, such as England and Slovenia. The Tuesday game will precede the final roster cut-down, the Turkey game is the first tune up with the final squad.
The games don’t count in the standings but are significant for young athletes who must react to the pressure to win a roster spot, and the US team overall will no longer be able to avoid the spotlight.