Print and Go Back Off the Ball Blog [Print without images]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Updated: June 30, 1:29 PM ET
After the smoke has cleared

Tuesday, 1:15 p.m., Embassy Row Studios, crap part of SoHo.

We lost two friends over the weekend. England, we always knew was on its way out. Don Fabio's men had regrettably been death rattling for some time now. The other, the U.S., went way too soon. Team USA, did you have to make us fall so hard, so fast, for your sincerity, passion and perseverance?

Now that they are both dead, it is time for the wake. I am sitting here with one eye on the Paraguay-Japan game. Both teams are pottering around the pitch with little conviction as the game teeters toward penalties. There can be no finer time to raise a glass and toast the memory of the U.S. and English tournament campaigns and provide some candid thoughts as the smoke clears from their wreckage.

Two different emotions of defeat
When did I last feel this bad about a loss? England's 1990 semifinal defeat to Germany, perhaps?

But I am not talking about England's 4-1 battering. It was the U.S.'s ouster that left me devastated this weekend. England's failure was, regrettably, all too predictable. We are a nation that has long mistaken fame for skill. But the U.S. team created a sense of endeavor, nobility and optimism -- all too rare a commodity in sports and rarer still in American soccer. We will always have Landon's goal, a totemic symbol that will be played and replayed, even as we debate how or whether America's fascination for the big-event nature of the World Cup will translate into a more lasting passion for the sport of football itself.

Where is the hate?
Worse than the way England played, worse than the bitter taste of defeat and worse than the 4-1 walloping was the recognition that, for the Germans, playing England is simply no big deal. We are no longer good enough to be on the German national radar.

Exhibit A: After their players swatted us aside, they celebrated with the minimum of fuss. Professional handshakes all around. Not descending to their knees, tearing up or even pointing to the Lord (who is, inarguably, a German supporter, whilst perhaps retaining a soft spot for Diego Maradona.)

Exhibit B: The German media treated our performance with sympathy for our plight rather than contempt. Das Bild even apologized for the Frank Lampard phantom goal debacle. We don't need your sympathy, Germany. At least give us the respect of feigning some contempt.

You want a real rivalry? Look no further than Ghana-U.S. Doesn't that have all the attributes to be the first rivalry of soccer's new world order?

Does it have history? Check.
Close games played for high stakes? Check.
The stinging pain of defeat? Check.

The hardest part of the weekend was the unshakable realization that although we English obsess about Germany, the Germans don't care about us. It's a situation akin to a high school AV student crushing on a cheerleader who doesn't even know he exists.

Capello must go … to the U.S.
OK. The United States has World Cup fever. But perhaps the biggest sign that it is not yet a true soccer nation is the easy ride coach Bob Bradley has received after his team was dumped.

Compare and contrast: His English counterpart, Don Fabio Capello, is undergoing trial by tabloid as the nation's media revel in the blame game after the abject campaign. Yet Bradley was able to make some curious tactical decisions in the Ghana loss -- starting Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley? -- and escape scot-free. (After Clark was given the hook after a mere 31 minutes, the BBC compared the halfhearted handshakes he received from the U.S. bench to those offered when a best man delivers an inappropriate speech at a wedding.)

Don Fabio has refused to resign, but that has not stopped leading English tabloid The Sun from identifying his replacement, astonishingly lobbying for David Beckham to fill Capello's Bruno Maglis.

The paper's logic appears to be as follows:

1. He looked good in his suit on the sideline.
2. Maybe he can do for the English what Maradona has for the Argentines.

Admittedly, both Beckham and El Diego look sexy in a suit, but there is one sizable difference. One is a proven World Cup winner. The other is a proven World Cup quarterfinalist. Becks is very much part of England's problem. Not the solution.

As for Don Fabio? As down as England is on him, America may well be the elixir for what ails ye. His tactical discipline would work well with an eager, egoless squad hungry to win as opposed to England's bloated, self-satisfied bunch of losers. Hire the man.

File these in the Department of Unanswered Questions

What medal?
Thieves were reported to have stolen jerseys, underpants and a FIFA gold medal from the English squad's hotel rooms before the team left for home. Understandable. It's what eBay was built for. But medals? What FIFA medal could an English player have possibly earned at this World Cup? Can anyone enlighten us?

Project 2014?
Jozy Altidore played this tournament like Emile Heskey -- minus the special fringe benefits that only Michael Davies sees in Heskey. Altidore truly has the worst second touch in soccer. He does the hard thing well, instinctively numbing any pass delivered toward him. It is only once his brain is forced to engage and dictate what should happen next that the ball bobbles tamely out of his possession. The U.S. team was one confident forward from doing some serious damage at this tournament, considering its draw.

But take heart. If we consider Germany's youth policy and recognize that a little more than 12 months ago, 20-year-old star Thomas Mueller was plying his trade for Bayern Munich reserves in the regional leagues, the U.S. has a full four years to find our man. It will be fascinating to see what U.S. Soccer and President Sunil Gulat do now that their "Project 2010" blueprint is past its sell-by date, particularly the promotion of the game among urban minorities.

We don't need revolution. Just one clinical striker.

Whom should we support now?
One of the most interesting facts about the last World Cup is that the television ratings continued to spike as the tournament progressed despite the fact the U.S. disintegrated in the opening round. If that is the case again, we need a new rooting interest and quick. Would love to hear your suggestions -- Whom should we back and why? -- in the comments or via Twitter @rogbennett.

Teamless as I am, the one thing I do know is that if you have a chance to watch a game in 3-D … do it, do it, do it. I watched Brazil rip out Chile's still-beating heart. With the 3-D goggles on, it looked as if magical little wood nymphs were running across a verdant fairy-tale landscape you could cup in the palm of your hand. Robinho looked like Tinkerbell, Kaka appeared as Peter Pan and bearded Bastos like Papa Smurf. I loved it so much, I swear by the glasses and now wear them everywhere I go.