Go ahead… blame it on me if you must. I went shooting off my mouth about how I wasn't going to hope for an easy draw on Friday night. Nope, I wanted a sturdy challenge.
Despite having a sneaking feeling that the US National Team could follow their trend by regressing a little at World Cup 2006, I wanted to take on all comers. We'll be ready, bring 'em on! We won't have anybody claiming it was an easy road when we coolly advance to the knockout rounds… right?
Somebody remind me to shut up next time.
My relief at avoiding Group C (Argentina, Ivory Coast, Holland, Serbia & Montenegro) didn't last long when it sank in how much work our boys have cut out for them next summer.
There was former MLS tourist Lothar Matthäus drawing the fatal glittery toy vending machine orb from its glamorous FIFA candy bowl.
USA. Group E. Open with the Czech Republic, then try to figure out how to beat Italy for the first time, close with wily upstarts Ghana – probably the most physical group of eight. Ouch, indeed.
Of course, it's not that my powers of telepathy are perfect (I'm still waiting for Ajax to sign another Yank). But if you feel the need to lash out a little, need to find somebody to blame, I can take it.
It was bad enough that the 'Nats must break pattern to match 2002's quarterfinal run (starting point '90, improvement in '94, the step backwards in France and so on… ). We already had a few key injury situations that warranted real concern six months ahead of show time (Gibbs, Johnson, O'Brien).
And now, the Red, White & Blue are going to be black and blue by the time they would be able to reach what looms as a round of 16 meeting with Brazil (second place gets the reward of facing the group F winner).
Okay, about this time, I'm getting' pretty dizzy. Let's slow down and think clearly.
At first glance, it would seem vital that the US somehow defeat twice runners up Czech Republic, a team they lost to 5-1 at the 1990 World Cup – otherwise known as the Eastern European name change nation's last finals appearance.
Chelsea man Petr Cech's in goal, somebody has to take Tomas Ujfalusi beatings in stride, somebody has to slow down jackrabbit playmaker Tomáš Rosický (if not undecided potential participant Pavel Nedvěd) and even if Kareem-esque target man Jan Koller isn't fit in time, Euro2004 hero Milan Baroš will be up top.
But hey… our guys are capable. They, too, will have something to say on June 12th. Who's next?
Oh yeah. The three-time world champion Azzurri, of the bruising catenaccio and staccato counter attack. Superstar keeper Gianluigi Buffon behind AC Milan stopper extraordinaire Alessandro Nesta, Genarro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo banging bodies in the middle, mercurial AS Roma engine Francesco Totti playing off of Fiorentina strike sensation Luca Toni.
Okay, let me be clear: when I said 'bring 'em on', I didn't mean Italy. I'd honestly rather have Brazil in group (and not as a likely first knockout opponent) than Marcello Lippi's crew. Beating the Azzurri seems to me a frustrating puzzle we haven't quite been able to piece together. Has four years changed that?
If the US aren't at full roster strength, this one could audition for Game of their Lives, the sequel. Either way, we will have to outdo them tactically to get a result – obviously, a tall order.
Yikes, I may need my mommy on standby. Take a breath. Forget the next six months of hearing that the Americans will go out early. The boys will be ready for some slug-fests, they will find a way with that reservoir of moxie to siphon. We will go toe to toe! Next!
To close up Group E play, we face a debuting African side that could conceivably be playing for pride... just grand. We must work our third game in 11 days dealing with Fenerbahçe strongman Steven Appiah and Chelsea linebacker Michael Essien patrolling literally the entire park, Champions League winner Samuel Kuffour directing the back and slippery attacker Matthew Amoah.
Hi, we're the USMNT and its proud fans, and we just got Punk'd.
Well, I did it. I got my stinkin' wish, and I'm not going to deflect your tomatoes or most any other flung produce (no gourds, please). I asked for a big challenge, I wished for a true test, nobody made me entertain thoughts of a 'one step back, two steps forward' cycle.
It is best to stock up on ginger ale and Tums now, my friends, because we've got a lot of time to let those gastric acids stew in our belly pressure cookers. This tournament is going to test our gut, and our stamina, and our faith, and our animal will to survive… it probably ain't gonna be much of a picnic for Bruce Arena and the players, either.
Kasey has to be king of his rectangular castle. Stevie C has to run that wing like Dennis the Menace AND still be at home in time to make the big defensive stop. Gooch has to keep staring them down like Ali without stepping on them like Godzilla. Captain America has to conduct da Bruce Philharmonic, guiding the tempo. Da Bease has to keep getting up when they put him down, make them make mistakes. Lanny Boy has to show Germany how he California rolls. Bake McBride has to show his thus far unheralded partner (whoever that may be) the way to the net. Johnny O has to be there… oh man, he just has to be there. It wouldn't be a valid test of four year's soccer growth if he wasn't.
If the US can match their final eight performance in the Orient, there won't be any talk of how we lucked our way through the draw. I wished this path, and now it is real, and there is no sending it back. I asked for the 'Nats to be tested, and now the proverbial professor is truly in... and he's a bit of a snooty jerk.
Damn, this is going to be fun. Ya know what? Bring 'em on.