USA v. Jamaica: A Momentary Reprieve

The US beat Jamaica 2-0, and inevitably there will be a feeling of smugness by those who believe that Bob Bradley has been doing a good job with the team.  I grant that this was the best US performance of the tournament, and the team should be lauded for giving its best tournament performance by beating Jamaica in convincing fashion.

None of this changes my opinion about either the team or Bradley.  While this sounds jingoistic, the basic truth is that the US should be beating Jamaica handily.  And Panama.  And every other team in CONCACAF, with the exception of Mexico (and perhaps one day Canada.)

Even at my most disappointed, I still believed it was possible for the US to get to the final round, and maybe even win the whole thing (although I still bet on Mexico.)  This does not mean however, that the US is on the right track.  The Gold Cup is on US soil.  The United States has more people and more money than anyone else in the neighborhood.

The problem with the US is their “Comeback Kids” mentality at both match and tournament level.  They start off poorly and pick up steam.  Eventually you get found out, and inevitably the US always gets found out.  Sure, they do not yet have the talent pool of a Brazil or a Spain, tournaments are not always won by the best team.  The problems that see the US perform worse than expect are indeed about quality, but ultimately it comes down to a lack of belief.  Bradley’s failure is that he cannot instill that belief.  Bradley has done all he can for them, and someone else needs a turn.

The major powers of Europe and South America pick apart the United States whenever they meet because of that lack of self-belief.  That is why in the pre-Gold Cup friendly, Spain demolished the US 4-0.  It is also why the US blew a 2-0 halftime lead to Brazil in the Confederations Cup.  Brazil knew they were better, and the US could not believe that they were winning.  The US sees itself as lucky (which it is) rather than quality.  That gets stripped away fairly quickly.

Almost as distressing to me as the team performance is the media’s unwavering support for Bob Bradley.  You hear this over and over again from columnists for ESPN and Sports Illustrated and the like.  One’s media does not need to be like the “love you one minute, hate you the next” British press, but there does need to be major accountability.  Every other country regularly questions its national manager even in the best of time.  Not the US.  This past Friday, I heard Sean Wheelock on the BBC’s World Football Phone-In say that he believed Bob Bradley should stay on as coach.  This is just before he said that he thought Jamaica would beat the US, and threw around the word “stale”.  (This also gives support to something I have thought for years; Sean Wheelock is a nice guy who knows his MLS, but he is not someone whose opinion I trust.)

So yes, congrats to the US.  I do suspect they will at least reach the final round, even if their next opponent is Panama.  Nevertheless, this does not mean that I have changed my opinion.  Regardless of the Gold Cup result, the US needs some major change, and change does not happen with the status quo rules the roots.  I just hope it doesn’t take a humiliating exit from Brazil 2014 to figure that out.