FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Judgment day is coming on October 10 for the U.S. men’s soccer program, or at least the closest thing to judgment day not related to the World Cup. On that day, two important games will take place. One is the senior team’s showdown with Mexico at the Rose Bowl for a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup. The other is a one-game decider for the Under-23 team with a spot in the 2016 Olympics on the line.
The U.S.-Mexico game is a mid-term referendum on Jurgen Klinsmann the U.S. men’s national team coach, while the Olympic berth is a referendum on Klinsmann the U.S. technical director. It’s a results-based business, so the takeaways will be relatively easy to make: Elation with two wins. Disaster with two losses. And something in between if there’s a mix.
The point of bringing up October 10 at the start of a story written right after the U.S.’s ugly 4-1 friendly loss to Brazil on Tuesday is that the stakes are so much higher on October 10 than they were on September 8 that it's essentially incomparable. Friendlies are like that.
As Michael Bradley put it afterward, “We didn’t think we were the best team in the world when we beat Holland and Germany in friendlies in June, and we don’t think we’re the worst team in the world right now. You always have to maintain a level head and kind of be able to look at things in a reasonable way.”
That’s not to say that the U.S. was ignoring the abject performance on Wednesday. As Bradley noted, he wasn’t sweeping it under the rug. Nor were his teammates. Here’s a selection of postgame thoughts:
Alejandro Bedoya: “Everybody can look at themselves in the mirror and say this was s---. We know we’ve got to do a lot better than this.”
Brad Guzan: “We never got close to them, plain and simple. We gave the way too much time on the ball. Couldn’t close the down. Couldn’t tackle. The second goal probably finished us in the sense of when you play a team like Brazil, you have to make it hard for them, and we never did that from minute one.”
Bradley: “When you play against teams like Brazil, if you’re not at your best—physically, mentally, tactically, just in terms of sharpness—then they make you pay.”
Klinsmann: “They gave us a lesson tonight.”
You get the picture. Brazil demolished the U.S., especially in the second half. After the second goal, the Americans uncharacteristically appeared to lose their will for a bit.
Guzan noticed that too. “It’s hard enough when you’re fighting a team like Brazil and playing a team with their quality,” he said. “So when you go down 2-0, I think the natural reaction is to be disappointed. But you have to find a way to carry on, because there’s still soccer to be played. You have to find a way to finish the game strong.”
And yet, after a week of saying friendlies against Peru and Brazil were about setting things up for October, the U.S. has to move forward hoping it can forget just about everything from Tuesday night. And that includes Mexico giving a Lionel Messi-led Argentina all it could handle in a 2-2 friendly tie in Texas.
Yes, it’s clear which team has more momentum heading into October 10, and it’s not the United States. We are heading toward a day that, as mountaineers like to say, has a high degree of exposure. “We have to hope Clint [Dempsey] is there,” said Klinsmann, “that Jozy [Altidore] is on a different level. Fabian Johnson is hopefully there. There’s no doubt we need him at right back. We have to hope that [DaMarcus Beasley] is there [at left back].”
Klinsmann will have six days with his team next month to get it ready for the Rose Bowl. Six days to turn around the conventional wisdom that the U.S. is the lesser team than Mexico. It’s possible. But can he pull it off? Can they?
When the U.S. team gathers next month, Guzan said, he’ll be looking for “an understanding of what the game means and how massive that is. So that for 90 minutes we can fight and compete and battle, and after 90 minutes we can walk off the field and say we’ve left everything out there. And if the result goes our way, great. And if it doesn’t we can walk away with our heads held high in the sense that we fought until the end. Something tells me that if we do that for 90 minutes, something will be O.K.”
He knows it. We all know it. Judgment day is coming on October 10.