World Cup success is determined in a narrow, interminably cruel window of four weeks, usually less for those not traditional powers, once every four years. Through the collision of time, money, effort, coaching, tactics, health, form, draw, and referees, a singular determination is made about the relative quality of a national team program based on a handful of games.
For the also-rans, the U.S., England, and a host of others, the self-examination that takes place even as hope and dreams are still smoldering is painful and invasive. The crashing out of the senior team, made up of men who are as much chosen warriors tasked with glorifying entire nations as they are mere footballers hoping to win a trophy, represents the failures of complex machines of development meant to spring them upon the world fully-formed and capable of delivering. The fruit is rotten, but it's the seed with which we become obsessed.
A wrinkle in time brings the chosen's successors to the forefront in a rush of renewed hope, even as we're unable to identify them definitively. Never mind that the players likely to represent us in four years are already too far along to be affected by any change made now; this is myopia, extended, and an approach that failed to produce a winner, even if the approach itself has been rehashed and revamped since directly impacting the men who wore the shirt last, cannot be allowed to stand. Steps taken in the interlude are meaningless or overlooked, or if they are noted, are assumed to be part of the same flawed thinking that brought us the most recent painful end.
For the developing soccer nation, the one perhaps on the rise but likely not because things are NOT MOVING FAST ENOUGH, a crisis of confidence leads to panicked assertions and pained howling. Fix it, it's all a jumbled mess, upside down and reversed and inside out and it's holding us back, and we just can't take it anymore. We know in our guts that this isn't right, that our development is stunted, and if only the stirred the pot faster it will give us magical results.
But stirring, constantly and vigorously, might mean our weightiest natural talents never have a chance to settle. Without trust that at some point in the past we got something right, without seeing it through, we might never know if we hit on the right formula. Our perspective is a function of time, and the danger lies in giving too much weight to the vagaries of the four week window that just ended. One or two more victories and our angst may have never erupted; a spot in the quarterfinals, which may have come with just one less mistake, and most of the problems that today we're so sure exist might otherwise be obscured. Our perspective, changed.
But mistakes were made; there is no reason to rest. What we've done in an effort to produce American players of whom we can be proud is simply not enough.
It will never be enough, not until our players return victorious with golden trophy in hand and the nation rises in celebration. That dream won't allow us to just let things be. Critical evaluation will never stop as long as that dream remains out of reach, and if that means calling for overhaul at every turn while ignoring the practical applications of our learned recommendations, so be it. We can see it, WHY CAN'T THEY? They, the ones in positions to mold our young hopes, are simply not listening, are surely ignoring the obvious, must be guilty of corruption or worse. Why else are we underachieving?
If we're not harrumphing over broken pipelines, we're dreaming of what is just emerging from them. The names are flowing, and even though many of them have yet to produce a drop of professional results, they're already causing us to leap ahead four years to when the window opens again. Our highly-touted youngsters are sure to burst onto the world scene, lifting us to new heights where their outgoing predecessors were unable; broken or not, the pipeline brings us something, and the promise is enough to let us believe it will be an undoubtedly richer batch.
Despair and hope, muddled together in a expectant fan base desperate for an American mark, a deep and meaningful one, on the soccer world. Our insecurities make us mad. Our love of the game and our teams make us uproariously passionate.
Let us take solace in the truth that mad and passionate is better than just mad.