While many have slated the US’s performance in their 2-0 home loss to Costa Rica, Bobby Warshaw saw the first step toward improvement
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I lose my composure (I’d use the word “temper,” but I’m too vain for that). Someone says or does something to me, and I’m quick to the trigger. I go in hard, too. I don’t even bother to argue back. I usually just say, “fuck you,” and walk away. Once I get that heated, there’s no point to have a discussion.
The next day, then, I generally have a feeling that’s become all too familiar. Why couldn’t I have just held off for one half second? Why couldn’t I have held my tongue and let the moment pass? If we relax when things get heated around us, if we keep our cool when the worst wave hits, then we will generally be better on the other side.
There’s a similar sensation on the soccer field. A teammate whips a pass toward me, the ball skipping off the wet grass toward my shin, and I see an opponent sprinting at me. He doesn’t look too keen on slowing down anytime soon, either. My heart rate increases. My muscles get a little tight. Fuuucckkkkkkk me. I pick up my head to look for someone. Nobody’s there. What the hell, guys?! Where are you?! I can’t lose this ball, though. I don’t have any cover. Oh shit, oh shit. What do I do? I put my foot through the ball and clip the rock to the corner channel. It wasn’t the best option, but at least I don’t look bad…and avoided this dude putting a cleat into my knee.
When I go back and watch the film, though, I’ll see that I had another option. The striker had actually checked into the gap in front of me. He was open. Perhaps not wide open, but open enough for me to get a pass to him and for him to do something with it. How did I not see that?
The half second.
If we all took one half second during our most distressing times, we would be better people living better lives.
It’s upon this half-second fact-of-life that the US performance against Costa Rica put in the most encouraging effort I can remember. I’m not saying it was the best performance, or even a performance they needn’t improve upon. Rather, I’m saying they showed more growth, and laid deeper foundations for further growth, than any other time I can remember.
The players on the field showed new levels of composure and bravery on the ball. They demonstrated a commitment to staying calm, to waiting the extra half second, when the game got hectic around them, and trying to connect passes on the ground. Instead of playing long balls to avoid danger, they tried giving it to a teammate on the surface under pressure. Instead of getting the ball off their foot for the sake of moving the potato, they tried to connect the dots. It’s not say they did keep their cool, or actually connected the dots, but at least they tried. They made the decision to go for it. And it’s with that decision that everything begins.
I’m not here to say adjustments shouldn’t be made for the Honduras game. I’m personally a pass-the-team-into-ground-kinda-guy, but I wouldn’t argue with anyone who suggests the US team should take a more counter-attacking approach, particularly if the Honduras field is as bad as it sounds. And I wouldn’t disagree with the thought that the US team needs an enforcer in the middle of the field to kick someone every time Christian Pulisic gets knocked to the ground. These, however, are cosmetic adjustments compared to soul-searching endeavors. Give a meathead calf implants, he’s got better calves, but he’s still a meathead.
I’m also not positive this was the right time to care about growth. Our World Cup hopes are still on the line (though, with Trinidad & Tobago and a home game against Panama to come, we certainly had some wiggle room). Yet, when is the right time to take a risk? Isn’t a risk always inherently risky? To quote that great philosopher from that one time…if not now, when?
To improve and get to the next level, in whatever style or vision you believe is the path to achieve the next level, the US men’s national team (and the women’s NT for that matter, but that’s another conversation) must demonstrate more composure on the ball. It’s perhaps the most difficult thing in soccer. It’s the biggest differences between levels. I’ve trained with players who played on much better teams than I. They weren’t magnitudes better at passing drills or skills competitions than I was. They simply had a different relationship with the ball, one where they didn’t tell the ball “fuck you” every time they got a little scared.
To steal a Johan Cruyff quote, “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.” It’s a quote about equanimity. It’s about remaining calm and level headed and making good decisions when the world is going to hell around you. Most players know the right pass on the whiteboard, or can see the right decision the next day in film. But it’s finding the serenity to do it in a hectic moment.
Don’t tweet at me “lmao did you see how many passes they gave away?” That’s part of the process. That’s how life works. You try something harder than you do normally, you fail, you get better. If you never want to risk messing up, you’re never going to get better.
I’m not providing an excuse for the team. Rather, I’m holding them to a higher standard. I’m saying that in the year 2017, the US should have players on the field who don’t freak out when they’re put under pressure. I’m saying that in the year 2017, the US should be able to dictate and control games.
I’m not positive the US men’s national team will ever win a World Cup, but I am 100% positive we absolutely won’t if we freak out every time our team tries to take the next step. If we do hope to win the World Cup one day, it will be because we strove for more comfort and composure on the ball. If we do win the World Cup one day, I’ll remember the Costa Rica game.
You can find Bobby’s recent book on life as a professional player at whenthedreambecamereality.com.