Over At Grantland, They’re Talking Soccer…Hooray?

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Written By Chris Azzopardi

Let’s get this bit of business out of the way first, just so I don’t come off like an elitist soccer-exceptionalist jackass a little later: I love that Grantland (Bill Simmons’ new “thing”) is talking about soccer. It’s nice to see the sport covered seriously, without any of the usual caustic American sportswriter drivel, by guys who know what they’re doing.

And Grantland is hotter than a flaming Chicharito jersey right now, so I shouldn’t complain. Soccer in the US of A needs people treating it the same as they treat the 612 other sports we obsess over day to day.

But, c’mon Grantland. Bill Barnwell’s piece on the Gold Cup Final sits precariously on a foundation of popsicle sticks. Wet popsicle sticks, bent back and forth ten or twelve times to make sure they’re extra flimsy. It’s easy for Barnwell to throw out the unequivocal statement that the USA’s only goal should be “to win the World Cup” and by that measure Bob Bradley screwed up by playing guys who won’t be first choice come 2014. It would be super-duper fantastic if it were so easy.

What should the goal of Grantland be? To be a blog where Simmons and his poker buddies can pretend ESPN isn’t standing over their shoulders? To get Simmons on late night talk shows and comedy podcasts? The goal of Grantland should be simple: To elevate the narrative blog post to something more than rehashed bullhonkey I could read in a million different places.

I know 50 guys who could have done a better job than Barnwell, and I know 50 more who argued the same things to better effect. And none of them would have required payment to do it. T-shirts are always appreciated, though.

Barnwell has this notion that Bradley’s only job is to prepare the United States for the World Cup. Under which rock he found this particular bit of incorrect wisdom, I’m not sure. Like any coach, Bradley is supposed to win games. Winning accomplishes a few things:

1) gets fans excited because winning is fun

2) creates new fans for the USMNT because winning is fun

3) gets more people to pay attention to the sport because the USMNT is winning and winning is fun, and

4) helps Bradley keep his job because the people who hired him like trophies and, say it with me, winning is fun.

When it comes to the Gold Cup, which Bradley is supposed to win in a year like 2011 (because Confederations Cup might not matter to anyone else, but it sure as hell matters to US Soccer) that means taking players that probably won’t figure in a tournament (the World Cup) that is still THREE FULL YEARS AWAY. It’s like Barnwell expects Bradley to be equal part clairvoyant and unrepentant asshole. That’s what it would take for any coach to meet the criteria of A) blooding new talent that will defintiely, absolutely be good enough to make the World Cup roster in 2014 when they appear to be a few years away from top-level international caliber and B) be totally fine with not winning the tournament no matter how much the fans care because, well, the World Cup is only 1100 days away.

You know what Bob needs to do what Bill Barnwell wants him to do? A waiver. A waiver from Sunil Gulati and US Soccer that reads “Bob Bradley’s position as head coach of the USMNT will not come under threat due to the team’s performance in the Gold Cup because he should not be picking his best team, he should be picking a new team that will likely get steamrolled by one, possibly more, opponents in this tournament.”

With that in hand, Bob could do what Barnwell wants. But since that team, full of 22 and 23-year old American players who have yet to fully develop (because Bill, American players typically mature later, something the Fed/MLS is currently in the process of trying to fix but which will probably hold as a truism for awhile), would likely crash out of the tournament in the semifinals, the uproar would threaten to bring USSF headquarters down like…a house built on a foundation of popsicle sticks.

Even if this new blood USMNT made the final, their inevitable loss to this Mexico team would have made the 2009 defeat look like a polite spanking. Bill Barnwell, with his wonderful hindsight, might then wonder why Bradley didn’t pick his strongest possible team rather than mess around with youngsters clearly too raw for the Rose Bowl stage.

But it’s really great that Grantland is taking soccer seriously. Keep it up guys, I really appreciate it. Really. The Freddy Adu piece was pretty good.

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