U.S. status heading into its last two Hexagonal qualifiers. “It’s crunch time. Who will step up?”
“After the first two games, you kind of knew it
was going to come down to the last two games. It is what it is. When you struggle at the beginning you’ve got to find a way to bounce back and the U.S. has bounced back, but unfortunately they
didn’t play well against Costa Rica and didn’t get the result they needed.
"Now it’s the same thing. Welcome to World Cup qualifying. Now the pressure’s really on. It’s crunch time. Who will step up?”
Poor reaction once Costa Rica took the lead. ‘You had plenty of time’
“I was just disappointed in the performance. I wasn’t expecting 2-0, not at home, not one bit. When you make simple, little defensive errors, you get in trouble. You had plenty of time to bounce back against Costa Rica. Who really had a great performance? Who on the U.S. really took that team and led it? They didn’t have that.”
Complacency affecting the U.S. against Costa Rica. ‘A little bit of overconfidence.’
“I don’t think they were ready. Maybe there was a little bit of overconfidence because we had beaten them a few times.
“I go back to ’94. Colombia had beaten us seven times in a row [actually six], I believe it was, before we played in the World Cup, and we surprised them. I look at it that way. You beat a few team a few times and you think, ‘It’s not going to be that hard.’
“Costa Rica, give them credit. They had a good plan, they stuck to it and they capitalized on the mistakes. When a forward like [Marco] Urena got a chance, he buried it, and that’s his job. I knew he was good, I didn’t know he was that good. He surprised me, I’ll be honest with you."
The last two qualifiers. “If Panama finds a way to get a result … “
“You play Panama in Orlando, where it’s hot and humid, like it is in Panama. If Panama finds a way to get a result, holy crap. Now you’re playing for your life against Trinidad in Trinidad.
“We’ll see who he calls in and we’ll see who steps up. This is where the veteran guys – the Michael Bradleys, the Jozy Altidores, the Tim Howards, the Geoff Camerons – they have to step up.”
What missing the World Cup would mean. “A crushing blow.”
“That’s a great question and I couldn’t tell you, because it’s been so long since we didn’t. We’re so used to qualifying and being in the World Cup and being one of the top two in Concacaf, this is a weird situation for everybody.
“It’s not the image we want and what we’ve been building in U.S. Soccer for the past 30 years, trying to put American soccer on the map. To have a hiccup like this would be a crushing blow.”
Implications of failure on MLS. ‘There will be questions.’
“For me, the biggest thing is people are going to question MLS. They’re not going to question the national team. They’re going to question whether some of these players regressed in MLS and that’s why they didn’t qualify.
"For MLS, does it mean, ‘These guys are playing in MLS, they didn’t qualify for the World Cup, does that mean the level has dropped?’ Is the MLS level not good enough?’ That’s going to be questioned. Should the players on the national team be in Europe? There will be questions about whether MLS is competitive enough for players at the national-team level.”
How MLS has helped other Concacaf nations. ‘No one’s scared’
“I think we’ve helped every other country, because no one’s scared about Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, because they see them day in and day out and playing against them every weekend. They know how to play them, so the intimidation factor went out the window.”
Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Matching the intensity of Concacaf rivals. ‘It’s like a final.’
“Let’s be honest: any time you play the United States, there’s extra motivation and any time you play Mexico, there’s extra motivation. Everybody in Concacaf wants to beat the United States. So you look at the [U.S.] players and you ask: Were they ready to beat Costa Rica at home? Every time we played Mexico, we wanted to beat Mexico and they wanted to beat us. It’s that rivalry.
“So for the other Concacaf teams, the games against the United States and Mexico are their biggest games of the year. Any time you play the United States, even if it’s a friendly, it’s like a final.”
What the team needs in the last two games. ‘The national team is against the ropes.’
“You have to have a leader on that team, someone who’s going to step up and bite, scratch and yell. Like a boxer; he can only take so many punches before he has to fight back or he gets knocked out. The national team is against the ropes and has been punched twice now. Costa Rica hit ‘em pretty hard and even Honduras hit ‘em pretty hard.
“So now, will they bounce back? Will they fight back against Panama and Trinidad? That’s going to be the important part.”