Friday, July 8, 2005
Bruce Arena has some explaining to do. And, no, "three points is three points" won't cut it. Not at this point. Not against Cuba. Not at home.

The rudderless, leaking ship otherwise known as the starting eleven that took the field for the USA against Cuba on Thursday night in Seattle was an insult to the American soccer community. The aimless, discombobulated play that characterized the first 87 minutes of the game literally gave me a headache to watch.

As the game wore on (you couldn't really say "progressed"), I realized my support for the team was, at that moment, more out of habit than something they deserved. That three late goals provided a win redeems nothing. Particularly against weakling Cuba playing a man down for 37 minutes before the go-ahead goal.

As to what Arena hoped to achieve with his lineup, I can only guess. Good play and a win for the team don't fit the evidence. Was there some major breach of discipline in camp that prompted him to sit so many of the players who could help win the game? Is Cuba so unknown a soccer quantity to Arena that he could underestimate them so badly? Does he have an axe to grind with Seattle? Has he lost his mind?

In fairness (and at the moment, I'm not inclined to it), it was clear that Arena had realized his blunder with the late substitutions of Landon Donovan, John O'Brien and Josh Wolff that turned the game around in the waning moments. These last 15 minutes of game, however, should have been the first 15. All three of these players (in addition to Steve Cherundolo) should have started in a more sensible effort to put the game away earlier, rather than later.

Experimental line-ups (the polite term for a team with a three man back line centered by a first time international in front of a keeper with just a handful of caps himself and no one on the field remotely resembling a number 10) are best left for unimportant friendlies or game three of tournament group play with six points in hand and advancement to elimination play already assured.

Game one of the regional championship is no time for a bizarre dalliance like this.

Winning this tournament is important. Reigning champion Mexico used it as a springboard to FIFA's recent Confederations Cup where their impressive performance against the likes of Brazil and Germany has greatly enhanced their standing and, no doubt, self-assurance.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what happens if and when the U.S. meets Mexico later in this tournament.

Is it too early to begin calling for Arena's head? No, but it is an inconvenient time. Any more stunts like this, however, and all bets are off.

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