Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Lager Way

This is a post of a column written by Garth Lagerway - a former MLS player and a very wise man.

"The Lager Way - My Generation

In Nurnberg , the cauldron of justice which marked America's formal emergence as a global power when we conducted war crimes trials in the aftermath of World War II, a different kind of verdict was rendered yesterday. The match official gave a penalty against the US that was simply incorrect. Nothing more need describe it and no amount of histrionics will reverse it. It came at as destructive a time as could be imagined, directly in the wake of the US equalizer and shortly before halftime, as devastating an emotional volley as finding out your high school girlfriend is dating your brother after coming back from college thinking you were getting back together with her.All of which is irrelevant.

If the game ended 1-1 the US were still out and they finished last in shots on goal for the tournament. We simply weren't good enough. Our most talented player was unable to make an impact and collectively we looked as scared as a high school freshman asking a senior to prom. What matters is what we learn from this World Cup. I am 33 years old. Before the Ghana game I was asked to predict the outcome. I responded that "On this day, in this match, which will define nothing less than whether my generation has left the US soccer world a better place than we found it, on a day when a kid I grew up playing with in Brian McBride would compete as a warrior, I can offer only my heart." With every beat in my chest I hoped the US would win and I left no star unturned in wishing them to win. There is an unspoken taboo among professional players that you are never a fan. Fans don't change outcomes and players do. Players have responsibility and once you have that you can't go back to cheering. But on this day, for the first time since I retired 5 years ago, I was a fan. I wore my US jersey and went to a bar and cheered and cursed my joy, my wrath and ultimately, my frustration at an inanimate television, pouring out my feelings across thousands of miles hoping they would migrate back metamorphosed into US goals. But it did not come to pass.

We are the last soccer generation to go to college. Greg Berhalter (UNC), Marcus Hahneman (Seattle Pacific), Kasey Keller (Portland), Eddie Lewis (UCLA), Brian McBride (St. Louis), Eddie Pope (UNC) and our captain, Claudio Reyna (UVA) will all almost certainly have taken their curtain calls on the grandest stage before the next World Cup in 2010. We grew up not having a league to play in, competing in a sport most people in the Midwest thought was the exclusive province of homosexuals, receiving the adulation of girls who couldn't make the cheerleading squad and guys who played Dungeons and Dragons. These players made the Quarterfinals of a World Cup. Think about that. They tied Italy playing a man down for a half in a stunning display that heaped courage upon bravery in great lumps that burst and poured forth chills down the spine. They have won Gold Cups and league titles. They have matured as men reaching their goals and dreaming bigger dreams. My generation of players was more talented than the pioneers of 1990 and 1994 but, history may judge, not yet good enough to seize the world by the throat, throttle it until it turned blue and force it to acknowledge we Americans are here for good. We are not wanted here and soccer is perceived as the last forum in which to thumb one's nose at the American Colossus without fear of retribution. Rectifying that now falls to Landon, DeMarcus, Gooch, Bobby, Tim and company.

But my generation walked a long, long way down the road to victory. In the 16 years since qualifying in 1990 we went from fielding overawed college kids to seasoned pros. We started MLS, a pro league in which 18 of 23 players on the national team have played. We got so much better so quickly we believed we could advance out of a difficult group in this tournament. This was a clearly better team than 2002 and it had higher expectations. The very fact that the mainstream media cared enough to criticize this team, to analyze its flaws, is progress. We can't miss the dark eddy of hope swirling in the shadow of our defeat. If there is such a thing as faith, now is that time. For three weeks from now when the American media have little noted, nor long remembered what was said about this team here, we, the American soccer community, must remember what they did here. We must see our progress and perceive that we are getting better. We must believe in ourselves and what we have contributed because there is much left to be achieved. MLS has been in place for a decade and my generation was the first to play in front of kids who had their posters on the wall. We have given those kids heroes. These kids, who will be thrust into the spotlight and won't be able to come of age in the sleepy obscurity of a university, will need coaches and leaders. In guiding them to win a world Cup in the next 20 years, we can forget about 2006 and ensure the future of soccer in our country.

Words for the Good"

He said it better than I ever could. To be honest, I'm not at all crushed over the US exit. I simply cannot be bothered to exert any negative emotion over a group of players who came out and crapped the bed so badly. I appreciate them giving me a team to cheer for in the World Cup, but their failure to even register on the playing-with-heart meter is emabarassing. I honestly would have rather had another country qualify because the world deserves more - and many fans from other countries have expressed the sentiment that they expected more from the US. Oh well, we´ll be in the Azteca in 3 years and in South Africa in 4. Long live US Soccer.

1 comment:

Senor Cheeseburger said...

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