By Michael Lewis
We all want to see beautiful soccer.
After all, it is the beautiful game.
End to end action.
Fabulous goal-scoring opportunities.
Fantastic defending by the team we are backing and even a spectacular save or two by the goalkeeper.
Of course, we don’t witness that every game.
Heck, we don’t see that in enough games.
But that is the nature of the sport.
Which brings us to the U.S. men’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica in the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship Thursday night.
It was an uneven affair, to say the least, with both teams showing their nerves, especially during the early stages. The Americans had some chances, but what was glaring was their sloppiness in the back, especially during their build-up when they lost the ball and put their goalkeeper in jeopardy.
That keeper, David Ochoa, was up to the ask and then some, making all of the stops to deny and frustrate the Ticos nine times.
On the positive side, the USMNT grinded it out and closed out the match, deflecting several Costa Rica attempts to equalize over the final 10-15 minutes.
Behind the USA’s problems was the bottom line, which was the top line on the scoreboard, aka the final score:
USA 1, Costa Rica 0
Translated: Three points in group play that will last seven days.
There is little room for error and many times when a team wins its first game of similar situations, it usually moves on in the competition (teams that win their World Cup openers reach the Round of 16 about 88 percent of the time).
The USMNT is one step closer to the semifinals, where both winners will clinch a spot at the Tokyo Summer Games. But the team has much work to do before it faces the Dominican Republic Sunday and then Mexico Wednesday.
Like it or not, many games at the national team stage are more ugly than beautiful. It is more important to survive than to paint a pretty picture.
While I love creative plays and goal that have my soul give a standing ovation, I’d rather win ugly then lose beautifully.
You know what’s really beautiful?
Three points in a short series.