It’s a sure sign a team has arrived in popularity when Barstool Barney starts calling for the coach’s head.
So, at least in that sense, USA Soccer has attained that elusive relevance.
Coach Bob Bradley finds his rump on the front-burner mostly for starting Ricardo Clark against Ghana. Clark is the guy who was stripped of the ball, leading directly to a goal in a 2-1 loss. And the United States can’t lose to Ghana in anything. It’s just not allowed.
There’s at least one other Bradley decision some folks don’t like, especially many of us in Honolulu and Houston.
As American strikers flubbed opportunity after opportunity – especially against Algeria and Ghana – one thought kept pounding through in my otherwise vuvuzela-deadened brain: Where was Brian Ching?
Well, not on the pitch in South Africa. Not even on the sideline. The 32-year-old Kamehameha grad from Haleiwa didn’t make Bradley’s final cut.
I’m not alone in thinking that Bill Clinton, Mick Jagger, Kobe Bryant and the rest of us might still be watching the USA play if Ching, known for his ability as a finisher, had been out there against the Black Stars.
Of course, Ching feels the same way – even if he wouldn’t say so in a phone interview yesterday.
"I want to stay away from criticizing," the best soccer player, ever, from Hawaii said. "For me, personally, it was a painful decision that the coach made. I feel like I positioned myself well to make the team and contribute."
Positioning himself well is a big part of Ching’s game. He has a knack for staking out the right place around the goal, and then using any legal part of his body to knock the ball into the net.
The Houston Dynamo all-star is a tough-minded veteran, and the USA could have used some of that savvy, too.
Bradley has an easy out for any second-guessers on the Ching thing. Ching pulled a hamstring a few weeks before the World Cup auditions. "I did get injured, but I was fit (at World Cup training)," Ching said. "I felt like I did everything in my power to deserve a spot. It was hard for me to take."
MLS fans in Los Angeles and New York didn’t make it easier when the Dynamo came to town, reminding Ching of the unkindest cut with chants of "US reject."
He shrugged that off. "It’s part of the game."
CHING WATCHED every minute of every game, cheering on his countrymen.
"Of course I did. Many of them are my good friends and my heart goes out to them. You know, the way things went, a couple of mistakes early on and they got punished for them, but they fought back and showed the true American spirit."
He and his good friend Landon Donovan exchanged texts.
"I told him, ‘I’m real proud of you.’"
The emotions were definitely mixed – again.
In 2006, coach Bruce Arena picked Ching for the World Cup team. But he never played.
This was harder to take.
"It hurt. It still does," he said yesterday.
THERE WAS a striking lack of success by America’s strikers: Zero goals in four games for the players whose main job is to score goals.
It’s said Bradley likes speed up front more than physical players like Ching, so there’s a philosophical aspect.
And then there’s Charlie Davies. The stellar striker came up a bit short in his comeback bid to make the World Cup squad; he nearly died in a car accident last October. Davies’ absence definitely hurt the American attack.
Davies is 24, and he’ll be back in 2014.
By then, Ching will be home surfing.
"I think this was my last chance at a World Cup. I’ll be retired (in four years)," Ching said. "I feel like I’ve got one or two more years."
Which means no more chances on the biggest stage for Hawaii’s greatest soccer player.