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Monday, June 9, 2008
Stephen Dunn/Getty
Landon Donovan
There are a myriad of aspects of professional sports that are highly intriguing to me, but perhaps the most hilarious facet of athletics are the infamous coaching rants caught on film.

A coach's fiery passion and devotion to his respective sport is never more adequately displayed than when a journalist asks him or her a particular question which touches a nerve and sparks a vitriolic diatribe. Soccer's most unforgettable coaching rant belongs to that of former/current Newcastle coach Kevin Keegan, who infamously lost his composure and remarked, "I would love it if we beat them!" in reference to Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United Red Devils (unfortunately for Keegan, he did not receive his wish).

A personal favorite of mine, however, comes from former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green.

The Cardinals had just suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football and a reporter's question about the potential unpredictability of the Bears' special teams (which had scored multiple touchdowns during the game) rubbed Green the wrong way and his response demonstrated his frustration at the undeserved defeat.

"The Bears are who we thought they were!" Green shouted defiantly at the press conference, adding "If you want to crown them, then crown their asses!" If someone was to substitute the words "Men's National Team" for "Bears" in Green's aforementioned tirade then a summarization of American soccer over the past three games would be produced to perfection.

America's Achilles' Heel throughout my lifetime has always been its inconsistency. The 'Nats three games against England, Spain, and Argentina, ranked nine, four, and one in the FIFA World Rankings respectively, once again epitomized The United States' inability to play at a high level for a significant period of time.

Bob Bradley's men were poor against England, passable against Spain, and potent against Argentina, but at no point during this three game mini-tour did the United States discover the stability required in order to challenge for the World Cup Trophy in two years time.

Team USA arrived at Wembley Stadium with the hopes of crushing an already demoralized England squad, whose failure to qualify for Euro 2008 still seems unconscionable to many aficionados of world soccer. The Three Lions, however, appeared to be motivated by their misfortune and took the game to the Americans from the onset.

England earned their breakthrough via a John Terry header courtesy of a trademark David Beckham free kick. That description should sound familiar to those of you who follow international friendlies quite closely because that is exactly how England scored the opening goal in their friendly against Brazil last year. Clearly the American squad did not study that game film with adequate scrutiny since they decided the best course of defensive action was to allow Terry an unmarked header from approximately twelve yards out.

England's second goal was equally deplorable, as somehow a simple one-two passing sequence between England's Jermain Defoe and Gareth Barry opened up a Grand Canyon-sized hole in the center of our defense for Steven Gerrard to walk through and slot his shot past a helpless Brad Guzan. These types of goals would never be conceded by the world's elite teams and unfortunately America does not still belong in that category.

Spain was next up on Team USA's European itinerary and this game, perhaps more than any other of the trio, pointed out the 'Nats most glaring deficiencies. La Furia Roja head coach Luis Aragones must have instructed his team to treat the game as a training exercise ahead of Euro 2008 because the Spanish definitely looked disinterested for the majority of the ninety minutes.

Spanish midfielders Xavi and Cesc Fabregas did well in maintaining possession for the home team, but for all of their style and flair there was very little substance in the final third of the field.

America's gritty first half performance kept the score at 0-0 and not long after the break the 'Nats were presented with the opportunity of securing the all-important first goal. Derby midfielder Eddie Lewis made a superb run down the left wing and whipped in an inch-perfect cross to the head of striker Eddie Johnson, who somehow, quite astonishingly, found a way to fire wide with Iker Casillas' entire goal at his mercy.

A goal there likely would have changed the complexion of the entire game, especially when you consider that the Spanish fans at El Sardinero had already begun to jeer their beloved superstars. An uncanny ability to squander golden scoring opportunities has always been a staple of American striker play, while the ability to concede ridiculous goals has always been in the nature of American defending. In that spirit there was almost an aura of inevitability as Xavi somehow found a way to dribble past the entire American backline and fire the winner past Guzan ten minutes from time. Once again the United States had found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of potential victory.

The final leg of America's mini-tour saw the US host world number one Argentina in front of the largest crowd ever to see a soccer game at Giants Stadium. The exertions of facing two top ten teams on their home soil in one weeks time had to have taken its toll on the US players' fitness, right? Absolutely wrong. The United States, paying tribute to its unenviable role as Mr. Inconsistent, found a way to conjure up soccer that was absolutely mesmerizing at times.

The return of Landon Donovan to the starting lineup seemed to spring Team America to life and once again illustrated his irreplaceability to the squad. Freddy Adu's gift of ball control was on display for all to see as he made the Argentine midfield twist and turn in ways that a contortionist would have admired.

Tim Howard demonstrated to Bradley why he is the undisputed American number one goalkeeper after making a multitude of jawdropping saves to deny Argentine striker Julio Cruz that nearly had the Inter Milan man in tears as the halftime whistle blew.

Argentine head coach Alfio Basile's decision to bench wonderkid Lionel Messi for the second half in preparation for the Albeceleste's upcoming World Cup qualifiers completely destroyed the stranglehold that the number one team in the world appeared to have over its lowly American counterparts. Basile's worst fears were nearly realized as a series of deflections and near misses, most notably Oguchi Onyewu's towering header that rattled off the crossbar, almost gave The United States its second win in ten tries over top-ranked opposition.

The game was so dramatic and absorbing that a friend of mine, who follows American soccer in passing but had watched the game on television, asked me, "Why don't we see that kind of play from the United States more often?" My friend did not realize that he had just identified the $64,000 Question that Bob Bradley, Sunil Gulati, and their predecessors have never been able to answer adequately.
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A big question for U.S. fans heading into the World Cup is surely on Jozy Altidore and just what is plaguing the young striker at Sunderland.
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