The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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Articles of Confederation

There’s a natural desire here to see this tournament as a revelation or proof of arrival, as though we’ve finally made it across the water and have the shores of a new land in our view. Or else, if it isn’t those things, to be a little disappointed, as though it’s more a sign of work left unfinished than predictions overcome.

But is there any practical reason to think that US soccer could have experienced a sudden profound change between the Italy loss and the win against Egypt? Would it really be so bad if this were just the latest in a line of occasional stunning results that don’t really influence the larger context, like 1930, 1950, or 1998?

Since no amount of “confidence” or “trust in each other” is going to give Benny Feilhaber the ability to pick out a pass or Bob Bradley the ability not to inject Sacha Kljestan into important passages in big games, I’m guessing we should focus on the latter question. But that’s not to diminish the achievement of the team during these last two weeks. Just the opposite, actually, since what’s frustrating about the endless obsession with “making it” in US soccer is that it blunts our ability to appreciate a spectacular moment: every astonishing upset has to answer to the inescapable narrative of progress; every flash of joy has to usher in an age. We have to deflate any good feeling that doesn’t come with a trophy attached with a lot of defensive talk about “not settling for less” and being “in it to win.” (Really? Two weeks ago we were going to be disappointed with anything less than a championship?) It’s as if we can’t fully enjoy even an amazing accomplishment like the Confederations Cup until we think the team is so good we can take amazing accomplishments for granted.

Don’t get me wrong; I want the team to get better. I understand, and largely agree with, the incremental-improvement-over-time take on recent history, and I think, or hope, that each one of these hints of revolution slightly raises the level the team sinks back to when it passes. It’s just that I’m more interested in seeing the run through this tournament, and the Spain game above all, as something to celebrate for its own sake, without thinking about next year or whether it’s safe to nudge up my expectations. I’m sure I’m not alone in that, but partly thanks to Bradley’s understandable emphasis in his postgame remarks, so much of the coverage has skirted the “what does this mean?” question that I’ve spent most of the last 24 hours wanting to take an anchorperson by his lapels and scream “We #$*%ing BEAT SPAIN! Doesn’t that matter more than abstract ‘potential’?”

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Articles of Confederation

by Brian Phillips · June 29, 2009

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