Saturday, June 12, 2010

"It Isn't Easy Being Green"

So tweeted a friend, riding a global wave of empathy for the England keeper, who made an elementary blunder in today's match against the US and, well, cost England the win. At least in the headlines.

It is said that drama requires conflict. On the pitch, said drama falls largely on the defense's shoulders. Attack, defend, counterattack. Without that middle term, it's just attack and score. This narrative structure means that defenders appear to stand in the way - their job is to ruin someone else's game. And when one thinks like this, one only sees the defense playing a negative role. The positive work of defense is largely invisible to those without the patience or desire to understand the game's dynamics - without an appreciation of the art, without an appreciation of defense as the first moment of attack, one sees it at best as a kind of aggressive passivity.  As if defenders were just in the way.

Today was a great day for considering these things.  

Nigeria faced a frightening Argentina squad and held them to a single goal - that goal was won in first ten minutes, before Nigeria's defenders had settled their nerves.  Once they steeled themselves, we got to appreciate especially Vincent Enyeama's performance - stealing one goal after another from none other than God's apprentice, Messi. Enyeama seemed to enjoy the challenge - perhaps he was not happy to see Messi so frequently, but he was eager to show the world what he is capable of.

And a few hours later, the world was talking about Tim Howard - he pulled out one great save after another, and, like his Nigerian counterpart, Howard radiated energy and focus - screaming at his back line to pull themselves together after England stole their goal from yet another jittery defense in the opening minutes of play.

We are all thinking, poor Green - yes, he fumbled the ball and cost the match. But we should also lament that with the likes of Rooney, Gerrard, and Lampard on attack, England put only one ball in the net in the third minute, and then failed to score in the subsequent 90 minutes of play. This will be said, but that collective failure will not register as neatly as Green's one terrible mistake because it can't be captured in a single image, condemned as a single mistake. Howard's marvelous performance is as deserving a candidate for the "cause" of England's failure to win that match as is Green's mistake.  It gave the US room to attack - time and time again Howard collected the ball where others cannot, retaining possession to change the game's direction. But as marvelous as it is, and as much as we are all talking about Howard right now, it won't be remembered as long, or dissected nearly so intensely as Green's fumble.

And that's the keeper's curse in a nutshell.


  1. Very well said! You can add to this the hubris of Capello starting unfit players, assuming that the US would collapse under the English pressure. It looked good for a while, but in the end the physical game of the US wore them down and they were pulled off one by one, leaving Capello few options at the end of the game. I wish Altidore had scored and Green not made the blunder... that would be a 1-1 result I would have savored more.

  2. I like your post about defense, I used to play right back. The sense of responsibility is immense and makes one read the game better. Good post about England's draw. They did have 90min to score. I think Aaron Lennon made a few bad decisions in the box that cost England shots on goal.


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