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It Seems To Me . . .
U.S.-Costa Rica result has our readers writing.By Robert Wagman
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Wednesday, July 26, 2000) -- Since Sunday, I have received a lot of e-mail regarding the United States national team and its 0-1-1 record in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, including Sundayís 2-1 loss in Costa Rica. Actually more than 400 were received, and I thought I should respond to those that fell into three general categories.
First, I need to eat some words. Let me say to the hundred or so of you who e-mailed that I was nuts to believe that Paulo Wanchope's disallowed potential tying goal in the setback to Costa Rica might have been good, you're correct. Upon further reflection, you're absolutely right. The goal was correctly disallowed.
At the moment Wanchope struck the ball into the net, a Costa Rican player was lying on the ground well behind U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller. Although he was clearly in an offside position, under the passive offside interpretation that world governing body FIFA is insisting its referees adhere to, the man on the ground -- at the moment the shot was launched -- was technically passive, and the goal, at least theoretically, probably should be allowed.
But roll the tape back a bit and one sees the player actually did interfere with Keller moments before, and when he did, he was in an offside position. Moreover, what television did not show was when the referee's assistant raised his flag. Having talked with several people who were there, the flag, in fact, went up well before the ball rebounded to Wanchope and he put it back in. Had Jamaican referee Peter Prendergast been a little more observant, he would have blown the play dead before Wanchope ever shot.
So for those of you who were kind enough to write to dispute, with varying degrees of vehemence, my earlier assertion, you're right. I'm wrong. It was bound to happen someday.
Many of you wrote asking one way or another, how deep a hole has the U.S. dug for itself by only taking one of a possible six points from its opening two matches. Since Sunday, I have seen stories saying the last two weeks have been a disaster for the U.S., the Americansí backs are to the preverbal wall, that the chances of going to the next World Cup are fading fast.
I think that's an overreaction. Yes, it would certainly have been nice to have taken four points away from the past two weekends, but advancing to the next round is far from a mission impossible. The U.S. has dug a hole for itself, but not one that is impossibly deep. What has happened is much of the margin for error has been eliminated.
The U.S. has four matches left, three on home soil, and one in Barbados. Nothing is certain, but do the math and a nation with a 10 standings points probably should be one of the two teams out of the four team group to advance to the final round next year. Ten points should mean advancement, 11 points almost surely will.
Right now Guatemala (1-0-1) sits on top of the group with four points, Costa Rica and Barbados, both 1-1, have three points each. The U.S., as mentioned, has one point.
First an assumption: both Costa Rica and Guatemala have one match each left with Barbados, Costa Rica at home, Guatemala in Barbados. Assume that Barbados will lose both those matches. If it should win one or draw one, it will obviously help the U.S., but thatís unlikely.
Thus, the two matches between Costa Rica and Guatemala are most important. If Guatemala wins both matches, it would have 13 points. If Costa Rica wins both, it would have 12. But the loser would be stuck on seven or six, respectively. If they split, then Guatemala has 10 and Costa Rica nine. Two draws and it's Guatemala nine and Costa Rica seven.
The U.S. has one point with four matches left. Winning all four guarantees advancement, as probably does three victories and a tie. Two wins and two draws could spell disaster,
To summarize, if the U.S. wins its three home matches -- Barbados in Foxborough, Mass., August 16, Guatemala in Washingtonn D.C., September 3 and Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio, October 11, then the worst predicament in which the U.S. could find itself is needing a point against Barbados in the away match there in November.
If the U.S. gets two wins and a draw in its three home games, then suddenly itís nail-biting time. Had the U.S. come away with six or even four points from the two away matches, then coach Bruce Arena would have had the luxury of leaving most of his European players with their club teams and using a mostly all-Major League Soccer squad against Barbados in August. Now he has to try to eliminate even the possibility of not coming away from that match with less than the full three points so he will have to start his best 11.
Finally, let's turn to the subject of player ratings. This is something I have been doing for national team matches over the last several months. In the past, I have been reluctant to do ratings because I understand the whole process is so very subjective. Player ratings are very common in Europe. I have had the experience of watching a match and then opening a newspaper the next morning and wondering if the writer watched the same match as I had. (I have also often read ratings in two different papers of the same match and wondered if the two writers had watched the same match.)
Apparently, some of you are having much the same experience, wondering if you are watching the same match as I am. I especially find that fans of certain teams, and the players on them, are upset with my assessments.
I heard from a number of Chicago Fire fans extolling the performance of Ante Razov, from a number of Galaxy fans arguing that Greg Vanney was the only thing right about the U.S. defense on Sunday, and even from Dallas fans insisting that if only Jason Kreis had played the full 180 minutes of the first two matches, the U.S. would surely have come away with the full six points.
Quite a few of you wrote to say I went too easy on this player or that player. Honestly, I don't think any of the U.S. players in either of the first two matches stunk up the joint, so to speak. Some had very average matches, some struggled at various points, but none played badly enough to have earned one-way tickets back to their club teams.
Which brings me to the question that a number of you posed: what scale do I use, and what is my criteria for giving the ratings I do. Basically it is a 1-10 scale, with the top and bottom lopped off. I can't think of a player getting a 10. Maybe an extraordinary player in the match of a lifetime, but I can remember only seeing one or two of these ever.
For a frame of reference, the Netherlands's Patrick Kluivert deserved a 9 for his four-goal effort against Yugoslavia in the recently completed Euro 2000 competition, and likewise, Kasey Keller deserved a 9 when he almost single-handedly beat Brazil 1-0 in the Gold Cup a couple of years ago.
At the other end of the scale, at the national team level I can't conceive of a player putting in a 1 or a 2 performance. Actually, a 3 performance would probably result in his being yanked very early in the contest.
So, upon reflection, I guess you could say I am using pretty much a 3.5-7.5 scale, with a average match earning a player a 5, or maybe a 5.5 in a winning effort.
Finally, several of you wrote asking why I don't rate Bruce Arena. Let's just say, thanks but no thanks.
Thanks you to all who wrote. I'll try to answer when I can.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be
e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com..