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Sports Authority

Exhibitions do matter for teams

| Tuesday, November 18, 2014

As you can probably guess, my sports teams had a rough weekend, and I’m still recovering from their losses. I think this is why I am peeved to see the United States men’s soccer team lose 4-1 to the Republic of Ireland last night.

Granted it was a friendly exhibition game, and it does not really matter much in the overall picture, but since the end of the World Cup in July, the men’s team has not performed very well. The national team has posted a record of 1-2-2 since it was eliminated by Belgium 2-1 in extra time from the World Cup in the round of 16. The squad has dropped eight spots in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking since July from No. 15 to No. 23 (at least it is still in the top 25, I guess).

To kick off the new 2018 World Cup cycle, the U.S. defeated the Czech Republic 2-1 on Sept. 3 in Prague. It was a good sign for fans, as the Czech Republic is now No. 22 in the world. Yet after a solid victory, the U.S. tied No. 27 Ecuador and No. 69 Honduras both 1-1 and lost to No. 3 Columbia 2-1 and No. 61 Ireland.

The rankings are not critical at the moment, but the perception of the U.S. national team is important. People argue that polls do not like the U.S. soccer team. The U.S. is consistently perceived as a mediocre team compared to the rest of the world. But when the U.S. gets some kudos on the world stage, it should do its very best to keep its presence as a top-16 team. After advancing out of the death group with a 2-1 win over No. 35 Ghana, a 2-2 draw with No. 9 Portugal and a 1-0 loss to No. 1 Germany, it is hard to see the U.S. then lose to the like of Ireland, especially by three scores. After going punch-for-punch with some of the World’s best, like World Cup champion Germany and No. 4 Belgium, the U.S. should not be content to simply play okay in the offseason. Otherwise the rest of the world starts to put off the U.S as simply a lucky team. The U.S. should strive to keep itself in the conversation as a good team.

The U.S. team is not performing like the top-16 team it proved it could be in Brazil. Maybe it is because Tim Howard has not played in any of these matches, and Howard was a 7-foot, 12-armed god in the World Cup. Despite the 2-1 loss to Belgium, Howard set the record for most saves in a World Cup game with 16. However, the U.S. will have to get used to not having Howard, as it is extremely unlikely the 35-year-old will play in another Cup.

It does not help that the U.S. is still struggling to produce goals. The squad has not been scoring much, averaging just 1.2 goals per game since July, and can’t rely on the goalkeeper every game to give up a goal or less.

Again, maybe I am making too much of a fuss about these exhibition draws and losses, but I can’t stand to see another talented team slip into mediocrity and fulfill the wishes and predictions of all of its naysayers.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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