By Paul Gardner
The sight of Jurgen Klinsmann striding along the touchline, pumping his fist in the air, after the USA had beaten Panama in the Gold Cup final was not one that sits easily.
This had been a quite dreadful game, ugly from start to finish, totally bereft of good soccer. Yes, Panama can be blamed for a lot of that -- obviously their main concern was to make life difficult for the Americans. Which they did, rather too easily.
So it was up to the USA to impose its game. Which it never did. Anyway ... what game? That there is still, after two years of Klinsmann, no recognizable style or coherence to his team’s play is a concern. But that things should be this bad is appalling. I don’t think any allowance should be made for the fact that this was a sort of “B” team. This was a Klinsmann production.
There is no need, no point, in going into details. Anyone who saw the game will be having a hard time to remember anything memorable or noteworthy from it. And the solitary goal, when it was painfully eked out of the mire, was a freak play. How fitting.
Klinsmann, some time ago, told us how satisfying it was to watch his team come together, to treasure the moments when he could say to himself “It’s working.” It would be intriguing to know if Klinsmann, suspended for this game and watching from a glassed-in box, managed to find anything that was working in this game.
That goal, that vaudeville goal, was deserved of course. As was the USA’s victory. The team had relentlessly tried, in its woefully inarticulate way, to break down a rather wobbly Panamanian defense.
The win makes the USA the champions of Concacaf. How big a deal is that? Certainly not as big as it should be. Consider: this tournament, played every two years, is now alwaysplayed in the USA. Money requires that -- a neat example, should you need yet another one -- of how cash distorts the sport.
Can you imagine the UEFA European Championship being staged every year in Germany? Or the Copa Americana alwaysbeing played in Argentina? Who would put up with that?
The USA gets the inestimable advantage of always being the home team in the region’s No. 1 tournament. No foreign travel to undergo, no strange cities or hotels, no pesky foreign languages or exotic foods to cope with.
Given that the USA is already either the first or second most powerful team in the region, that is a benefit that should pretty much ensure a USA victory every time. Winning the Gold Cup should not be lauded as a big deal.
I said there was nothing noteworthy to be recalled from this game. Sadly there was something that’s going to linger. The sight of Stuart Holden, limping away from contact with an opponent, his right hand lowered, trying to grasp his right knee.
A horrible, sickening moment for Holden, and for all who have followed his battles with serious injury. Both his previous injuries followed violent contact with an opponent -- a broken leg in 2010, inflicted by Dutchman Nigel de Jong, and in 2011 a 26-stitch gash on his right knee and an ACL injury following a clash with ManU’s Jonny Evans.
This latest episode did not appear to stem from rough play. There was glancing contact with Panama’s Alberto Quintero -- but with Holden’s left leg. Which will be but bitter consolation for Holden. The sight of Holden sitting on the U.S. bench, his hands clutching his head, was agonizing, a moment of brutal truth in a sport that will never be free of these tragedies.
But for Holden ... three times? You like to think that there is, in sports, a fairness that eventually evens things out, that makes it all worthwhile. A hollow thought right now for Holden.
Klinsmann had his say, and he said all that could be said neatly and with feeling: “We are absolutely devastated for Stuart. He is such a great part of our team on the field and the locker room. He worked tremendously hard to recover from previous injuries and had really come back into form ... Now he will have our full support as he goes down this road again, and we will be with him every step of the way.”
An ugly happening in an ugly game. I have had my say on the game. For Holden, my initial feelings of horror and sympathy have given way to a brighter vision, one encouraged by his defiant “We shall rise again!” A vision of Holden coming back, yet again. He deserves that as the victim of inexplicably cruel bad luck.