x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Team USA are not bad, but not great

While American fans can ponder the chances of the US beating England in the first round, that possibility is not running through the minds of England's fans.

At a rather small, uncrowded restaurant in Connecticut, my sports radio cohorts and I watched the Fifa World Cup 2010 draw. While others there thought the highlight was watching the host, Charlize Theron, for me it was the general reaction, or lack thereof, that stood out. Besides the fact that it looked like a television game show to the Americans in the room, I think the only other person on the stage anyone here recognised was the omnipresent David Beckham, whose cracking suit did not match his dishevelled haircut.

Of the 12 people in the room, I was the only serious football fan. Most of the others were just watching because it was on the lone television. A few people shouted for me to change the channel. I even heard a few "Are we watching soccer?" yells from the back of the room. It was a microcosm of the football fan experience in the United States. A few Irish patrons booed the screen when France's draw was announced.

One of my colleagues asked me the same question about each team when they were drawn: "Are they any good?" The US draw could not come soon enough. Eventually they were put into Group C with Algeria, Slovenia and England. On ESPN, the experts did their instant analysis and declared that this was a good draw for the US, as they are likely the second best team of the four and that two teams will advance.

With almost no time to think it through, I had to agree. When I looked at Group G with Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast, Group C looked like a gift. Even a casual American fan knows what England bring to the table, while it is just the opposite with Slovenia and Algeria. These are two countries that we know little about from a football standpoint, hence, we can beat them. I cannot make it that simple.

In the past decade I have seen the United States team look like they belong on the world stage as a football power and I have seen them look like they are a generation away from competing with teams like England, Italy and Brazil. After I left, I went online the next day to see how others were viewing the draw. It did little for confidence in my home country's chances. The Sun and The Mirror newspapers in the United Kingdom splashed huge headlines declaring that England had been given an easy draw, especially pointing out the fact that the "Yanks" were widely considered the second best squad in the group.

While American fans can ponder the chances of the US beating England in the first round, that possibility is not running through the minds of England's fans. I talked to United States footballer Landon Donovan two weeks ago and we joked that I would come to South Africa for the World Cup if he could guarantee an appearance in the final. We both laughed and Donovan did his best to keep our expectations under control.

The problem is that many football fans in American have the Confederations Cup win over Spain burned in their memories and that this will heighten expectation for the US team in South Africa. I am a realist and I know that there is no chance that the United States can win the World Cup in 2010. I also know that Team USA should have progressed enough that we can expect them to join England in advancing from Group C.

That is where we are now with US international football, not bad enough to have no expectations and not good enough to get ahead of ourselves. @Email:ppabst@thenational.ae