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Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Well, that sucked.

That pretty much sums up the mood of the fans after Monday's debacle in Veltins Arena.

It was one of those days when everything that could go wrong did - and boy, did it go wrong. It was a disaster for US Soccer, pure and simple.

The train carriages of American supporters heading out after the match felt like a funeral cortege compared to the fanfest from hours earlier.

Wherever you watched that game, it was a traumatic, humbling and even humiliating 90 minutes for those of us who devote our time and money to following the American version of the beautiful game.

If, like me, you were in the stadium in Gelsenkirchen, you wondered how lucky you really were to have ended up in the 5000+ strong US fan section after all.

At least we took the city from the Czech fans beforehand, thronging the square beside Gelsenkirchen Hauptbahnhof with a sea of singing Red, White & Blue fans in what was the best US fan gathering I have ever seen overseas. Our best chant, tailored with respect to the local audience, was: "Ha-ssel-hof! Ha-ssel-hof!"

The Yanks had arrived from Minnesota and Florida, Iowa and Arizona, plus a number of fans of YA teams such as Reading and Borussia Moenchengladbach.

There were fans dressed as the Statue of Liberty, Evel Knievel, Uncle Sam, Elvis and a full team of Harlem Globetrotters.

We also did our best to encourage the boys in the stadium until Jan Koller broke our hearts with only five minutes on the clock. That was a hammer blow the fans, as well as the players, did not recover from.

At halftime and two goals down, the party atmosphere of a searing hot day in Germany had become a subdued realization that the US was having a waking nightmare.

It brought back memories of Daejeon in 2002 when two Polish goals in the opening five minutes zapped the euphoria of having beaten Portugal and tying Korea.

At a pinch, it resembled the opening game of France '98 when Germany beat us 2-0 - but then Steve Sampson's team were novices in comparison and ended up finishing last among the 32 entrants.

This time around, expectations were higher. The US came into this group as a serious challenger, ready to take on the likes of the Czech Republic, not lie prostate and let them walk all over them.

Two years ago, the Czechs were the best team at the European Championship, but weren't guys like Nedved and Koller supposed to be a few days short of a zimmer frame in 2006?

Man Yoo reject Karel Poborsky was running like a Skoda on full cylinders, while only Tomas Galásek could be said to have been less than stellar among their stars.

From deep within Schalke's stadium, I can confirm that thousands of American jaws dropped in unison when the replay of Koller's goal was shown on the big screen and we realized the invisible man had been assigned to mark him.

And was I the only one wondering why on earth Pavel Nedved was enjoying the freedom of the field? Nomads wandering the Sahara know the Juventus guy with the central European rocker hairstyle is one of the best orchestrators around, yet he was so influential he could have started a cult out there.

Another class act was Tomáš Rosický, and just how closely have Bruce' spies been following European soccer if he was allowed the time and space to score not once, but twice?

The Czechs have been consistently in the top two or three of the FIFA rankings for the last few years - so why did the US fail so conspicuously to address their danger men?

Maybe Bruce told them to let the opposition worry about us, the old encouragement of legendary English coach Brian Clough, but the US game became a catalogue of errors, a saga of shame.

Watching Oguchi Onyewu's value plummet as he turned in an uncertain and shaky performance was painful, while Eddie Lewis proved he should not be playing at left back, despite, or rather because of his attacking credentials.

The US midfield chased shadows in the first half, with Reyna slinking back and Mastroeni advancing in a reversal of their supposed roles, and neither bothering to adequately track Nedved, around whom the Czech moves were revolving.

And as for our offensive threat, well it was offensive.

Brian McBride is the best striker we have and a real threat in the air, but alone upfront, he is not enough and can disappear from games quite easily (especially when Fulham play away).

He countered his ineffectiveness by dropping deep and trying to do the job Landon Donovan should have been doing as a support striker, except then there was nobody ahead of him to pass to.

The US build was reasonable at times, and one move ended up hitting the woodwork, but otherwise, we could not string three passes together and instead of using the dribbling skills we have in the team, or even serving high for McBride, our final balls were a succession of hopeful chips that were easily cut out.

Bobby Convey had a few runs of reasonable quality, but his crosses and overall play were a poor version of his A-plus season with Reading.

During one break in play, he himself looked at his teammates, spread his arms wide and shrugged his shoulders in bemusement.

Not for the first time, I could not make my mind up about Donovan's position and wondered where he was more than once, while DaMarcus Beasley continued to disappoint, showing none of the guile and incisiveness he has demonstrated at PSV.

At least you can say Bruce tried at halftime by bringing on John O'Brien and Eddie Johnson, who both did well, although it was not enough to save the match.

What was really strange was seeing Marcus Hahnemann on the field at the final whistle, commiserating, when he normally charges barechested around the field after another Reading victory.

Yes the Czechs were better on paper, but they should not have looked streets ahead on grass.

They were quicker to the ball, pressed hungrily, increased the tempo while retaining possession and were a lot more dynamic in midfield.

Snatching at crumbs of comfort, you could say they will beat Italy and we can still steal second, that it is better to lose your first game than the last one when it really matters and that this will make the boys redouble their efforts on Saturday.

But no, this was a disastrous result, however you look at it.

With a few minutes remaining, a little girl sat two seats away from me asked her dad: "Can we bring on any players from DC United?"

How about someone from DC Comics, I felt like replying.

So can someone get on the Batphone before Saturday, please?

Hey, the Netherlands have played Robin (sic) and he has been the star of the tournament so far.

Or maybe only Superman can save us now.
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Conor O'Brien could finally make his Austrian debut for Wiener Neustadt on Saturday.
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