The best news to amble down the soccer turnpike in recent days was the announcement that the United States has withdrawn its bid to stage the World Cup in 2018 and that England has pulled out of the race for 2022.
This is a welcome development for a couple of reasons.
First, it means that a closed-door deal likely has been done and that FIFA is set to do what it had wanted to do all along: give 2018 to England, give 2022 to the U.S., and allow Australia, China, Japan, Qatar and South Korea to sort out 2026 among them.
The U.S. bowing out of 2018 is also good news because it means there are four more years to find a more quotable coach and 23 more imaginative players in time to make an impression at home a dozen years from now.
It might also allow the country time to realize that a bit more criticism and a lot less meek acceptance of the status quo would do the sport no harm and might actually further its progress in the U.S.
Tuesday, in front a sparse gathering in Chester, Pa., the U.S. was held to a 0-0 tie by Colombia. It was a feeble performance and came on the heels of another error-strewn showing, a 2-2 tie with Poland in Chicago.
But there were no voices raised in anger. The most critical thing the Philadelphia Inquirer had to say of the Colombia game, for instance, was that it was "uneventful." Reuters proclaimed it "dull." Beyond that, there was nothing.
That same day there was another 0-0 tie on an international field, this time in a Euro 2012 qualifier between a delusional England team that thinks it is better than it is and a relatively unknown Montenegro team.
The English, unlike the Americans, were scathing in their denunciation of Coach Fabio Capello and his choir boys. Here is, for example, what columnist Richard Williams wrote in the Guardian:
"This was one of those occasions — like the draws against the USA and Algeria in South Africa during the summer — on which it is tempting to conclude that England's $9-million coach must be taking the Football Association for a very expensive ride. Nothing in last night's performance, from the first minute to the last, suggested that any form of systematic progress is being made under the current regime.
"After two and a half years of exposure to the Italian's theories, are England more shrewd, flexible and incisive in the patterns with which they attempt to dismantle their opponents? Are they fitter, faster, more alert, technically sounder in the arts of winning and shielding and distributing the ball as a result of working with Capello's entourage?"
Elsewhere, the same newspaper proclaimed that "the vacuousness of the game shamed those who are picked to supply verve" and it bemoaned "the shabby standard of play."
Where were similar comments in the U.S. about Coach Bob Bradley and his players?
The Daily Mail called it "one of those lifeless displays that England have too often produced in recent years … a brand of football lacking conviction and finesse. … England are far too predictable."
The Telegraph's Henry Winter wrote that "Capello's side were too sluggish, too lacking in ideas."
Could not the same be said of the U.S.? If so, why wasn't it said? Is it that no one cares?
England's players were booed off the field by the 73,451 at Wembley Stadium. The U.S. should have been jeered all the way to the locker room in Pennsylvania, but instead Bradley smiled at fans, slapped hands with a few and even paused to autograph a trumpet and a flag.
Perhaps the real fans had voted with their feet. Only 8,823 showed up at PPL Park, where even the hapless Philadelphia Union averages 19,302 for Major League Soccer games.
Next up for the U.S. is a meaningless game against South Africa in Cape Town on Nov. 17, a game to which Bradley will undoubtedly take a third-string team.
The game's purpose has nothing to do with improving the national team. It has everything to do with securing votes.
On Dec. 2, FIFA will make its announcement in Switzerland on the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The agreement to return to South Africa was merely a way of making sure that Africa's votes go to the U.S.
Landing the World Cup in 2022 is obviously an easier task than putting together an entertaining team. Or perhaps U.S. Soccer has simply got its priorities the wrong way round.