Reasonably entertaining, moderately interesting and ... well, and nothing. The USA's 2-0 win over Honduras last night gave us nothing new, neither in fresh players nor in a new approach to the game.
Actually that second possibility was never on the cards, and it's a bit silly of me to even mention it. Bob Bradley's teams will go on looking like they have always looked. They do not sparkle. They are efficient, athletic, and, definitely, well-coached.
I don't mean well-coached in the sense that they play nice soccer, because they do not even try to do that. I mean well-coached in the sense of well-drilled. The modern, pragmatic approach of making sure that no one is standing still at any moment of the game. The movement, though, has to be meaningful and Bradley has got all that stuff well sorted. The defense is rarely caught under-manned, the attack is quickly supported from midfield. Numbers are important -- in the right place at the right time.
So we got a lower-level version of what worked so brilliantly against Spain. It worked again, though Honduras tired rather badly as the second half wore on. But beating the world's No. 1 team in the Confederations Cup brought along with it a tremendous charge of excitement that simply suppressed one's ability -- even one's willingness -- to see just how straightforward and plain ordinary much of the USA's soccer really is.
Individual touches, flair, skillful dribbling, unexpected passes, close-passing movements, wall-passes to move the ball through midfield -- you can forget all of that, because that is too fancy for Banality Bob Bradley. A pity -- for two reasons: Firstly, by ruling out all of that -- and there's more -- you're ruling out all of the stuff that elevates soccer from a mechanical board game into the realm that makes it the most wonderful combination of athleticism and artistry that man has yet come up with; quite a price to pay. And secondly: By turning his back on the Beautiful Game, Bradley has also, as a logical consequence, to turn his back on the players who could give him the artistry.
No surprise there -- anyone with as solid a college background as Bradley is not likely to be big on creative players. And, of course, there are exceptions -- or one, anyway. Freddy Adu. I nearly wrote Poor Freddy Adu. Bradley has certainly given Adu his chances, and I have the sinking feeling that this is the last go-round for Freddy. Once again, he just didn't do it. Once again, he started with a few promising flourishes, but soon faded into futility. After an hour he was gone, and no one could blame Bradley for removing him, he had become a non-presence.
Adu is still remarkably young (he's only 20), and he's had a tangled time of it with all the clubs and the coaching changes he's been through in his short career. But none of that should have mattered last night. He was starting for the USA and he must surely have realized that his time is running out. The response just wasn't there.
Not easy words to write, or thoughts to think. Because Adu promised to be the sort of player I want to see, the sort of player I believe the USA needs, I have wanted him to do well. The hot-house atmosphere in which he was forced to develop thanks to his early stardom probably has not helped matters. We'll never know for sure, there's no going back ... but for Freddy is there any going forward?
Of the "new" players on the field (none of them is really new in any sense of the word), Kyle Beckerman and Robbie Rogers caught the eye. Beckerman I first saw as a 17-year-old in the 1999 Under-17 World Cup. The team included both Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, but Beckerman started every game as the central midfielder. I thought he showed tremendous promise as a creative player. His subsequent blossoming as a pro has gone rather differently from what I hoped for. Beckerman is now much close to the standard all-action, never-say-die college-style midfielder. You could say that's odd, as Beckerman skipped college. But that's the way things go in this country, that athletic college style pervades the coaching at the youth level.
In that genre, Beckerman is better than most, but I'm wondering how he ended going in that direction. Coaches, I suppose.
About Robbie Rogers I know very little. His dribbling I like. It seems tailored to meet the Bradley requirements. Nothing fancy, not a great deal of subtlety about it, but lots of strength and speed. Very effective, and exciting too. But I have a vision -- a fantasy vision, if you like -- of a much looser and more explosive Rogers. Just as in Beckerman I see a promising player who strayed, or was led astray, from the path I think he should have taken, I find myself wondering whether Rogers might not be another. And inevitably the same thoughts encircle the ill-developed Adu that I now see.