WERE WE GOOD, OR JUST LUCKY?
Narrative theory postulates that identity, in so much as it stems from experience, is formed largely through the stories we concoct to organize our memories and communicate events to others.
As the tale is told, so reality is defined.
Hours away from the first match of the rest of the World Cup, still grinning from a victory grasped from the clutches of what would have been a worthless tie, many are asking just how far this team will go.
I'm still trying to figure out what the hell happened so far. Hence my identity-crisis following the opening round.
Perhaps the story writes itself. Did a disciplined, visionary coach produce three solid team-efforts, punctuated by moments of brilliance and a star-turn by Landon Donovan, to come through the group-stage in a mature yet impassioned display of self-belief?
Or did we just get incredibly lucky against two inferior teams and a third with opening-game jitters, despite glaring defensive errors in the opening minutes of all three games, sloppy short-passing and frequent incompetence in front of the goal?
And can it really be called incompetence, despite all the near-misses, when we outscored our opponents by somewhere in the range of 4-6 to 3?
Was that the story? Two legitimate goals that were called back? If they hadn't been, surely the record would have reflected that we waltzed through the group stage with seven points.
Or is the story one of loss: not of Dempsey's disallowed goal, but of the countless chances he squandered?
That's one version. Another involves the many chances he created for himself and his teammates, and his improving fitness from game to game.
He was also the author of the first goal, which gave us a vital point to start things off with a bang. Or should it have been counted as an own-goal by the keeper? Remember that? "Calamity Green"? The first big story of the World Cup.
Seems like a lifetime ago.
My colleague here at YA, Jack Rozier, has described himself as a "delusional optimist" when explaining his attitude toward the team going into the tournament.
It is a perspective I would have loved to share. Unfortunately, the first step to deluding myself into optimism would have been a suspension of disbelief, and frankly, the spectacle of the US in the past year just wasn't sufficient to make such a leap of faith possible.
I wanted to believe, but I didn't, and my skepticism defined me as a fan.
Now I have to wonder: was I reading it all wrong?
As with so many other things, I blame Bob Bradley for this quandary. His decisions in qualifying too often seemed counter-intuitive, like he was holding the group back by sticking to a script that no one else wanted to see.
But results are results, and the success of his tactics against Slovenia and Algeria has made me doubt my almost pathological need, leading up to the World Cup, to criticize both his strategy and player selection.
It may be time to turn the page.
Let's look at the facts. And there are facts. Score lines can come with footnotes, but the tournament marches on regardless.
What a difference a goal makes. And not just the disallowed ones, or Donovan's big moment. Goals were scored from the run of play in all three matches. That's nothing to sneeze at.
On the downside, three defensive errors in the opening-minutes of three matches do merit at least a sniffle. DeMerit's mistimed clearance against Algeria, even if it mercifully ended only in a shot to the crossbar, was every bit as significant a moment as Dempsey's goal being called offside.
But on the upside again, errors like DeMerit's are the things that can be corrected with the proper mindset. A team without attacking bite probably isn't going to suddenly deliver a flurry of goals, but a team that fell asleep a few times on defense, if properly motivated, can surely deliver a full-ninety-minutes plus stoppage time performance.
A little adversity on the road to glory is always a prerequisite for the Hollywood ending.
For those who can't live without the drama, not to worry, some continued adversity is almost guaranteed. It's apparent that this is not a great passing team, especially up the middle and in the attacking third.
It's also apparent that the strikers have yet to strike.
However, Altidore is winning his share of balls in the air and getting them to the feet of Bradley, Donovan and Dempsey. Especially in the case of the wing midfielders, this is as effective a way as any to organize the offense. Does it really matter how they get the ball?
So long as the goals come, and the defense stays sharp, a lack of midfield passing is hardly a tragedy.
So, Bradley is a genius? England, Slovenia and Algeria blew it? The defense was terrible for 20 minutes? The defense was great for 250-minutes? It's a tangled web to unweave.
Surely there are some positive signs. That the story continues is, frankly, more than I had really imagined possible. From what we've seen so far – in terms of attitude, goal-scoring, and long-stretches of defensive effectiveness, combined with Dempsey and Donovan's creativity and Bradley's midfield pressure and drive to get forward -- there are many indications that the USA is a team capable of continuing deep into the tournament.
But maybe not. That's the problem with foreshadowing – when done well, it is always open to interpretation.
Imagining what is going to happen against Ghana is a question of picking a story and sticking to it. Mine is that my identity as a skeptical, patriotic fan of a team without the depth to make it very far against the worlds' best is being seriously challenged.
Which is really much better: provided it doesn't lead to a nervous breakdown, it's a lot more fun not to have a clue how this story is going to end.
But this I do know: history is written by the victors. And no matter what the outcome against Ghana, by winning their group for the first time in 80-years, and in dramatic fashion, some shelf-space should already be cleared for the collected works of Bob Bradley and the 2010 US team.