- Jason Davis

Okay, I'll admit it: I was shamed into writing about the USMNT's depressing loss to Panama, nearly 48 hours after the gut shot landed. A follower on Twitter declared MFUSA dead. I could not allow that to stand. I have new and consuming responsibilities. That doesn't mean I can't spit something out.

What happened on Saturday wasn't an aberration. The United States is not a consistent soccer team. We could easily throw that at the feet of Bob Bradley and be done with it, job done, blame laid. Bradley should rightly bear much of the blame for a dispirited, lackadaisical performance by the players he's paid to coach up. If you don't do the job of impressing upon your charges just how easily a lesser team can bite you if they're given belief, then things like "the first Gold Cup group stage loss in USMNT history" can happen. Team psychology is a brew in constant need of attention. The wrong move at the wrong time turns a high-energy, athletic team into a collection of two or three players doing their jobs amid a slew of slackers.

So here we sit, with Bob Bradley's job likely hinging on one game for just the second time in his tenure. It took a Landon Donovan goal in extra time to save it the first time. If it takes something similar this time around, Bob will be holding on by a thread measured in millimeters by Wednesday morning. The fans and certain segments of the media are holding Bradley's feet to the fire for anything less than a Gold Cup Final birth; advancing by anything less than a comfortable margin tomorrow night will turn that fire into an inferno.

And a loss, which would be failing to make the quarterfinals? You'll have never seen Sunil Gulati move so fast to do anything. It won't even matter if there's a qualified candidate anywhere for 3000 miles. Gulati wouldn't be out of bounds to fire Bob at the post-game presser.

The coach is the object of blame so often because "you can't fire the players." The players - specifically Landon Donovan, Tim Ream, Jermaine Jones and several others - have their own failings for which to answer. If they're on the field Tuesday night, and we should expect most of them to be, they can do nothing but lay it out all for 90+ minutes. If that means pressing for a third, fourth, or fifth goal when the result is no longer in doubt (we can dream), so be it. Anything less than full and visible effort is unacceptable.

American talent has plateaued or worse*, and maybe (maybe) CONCACAF nations have made up some ground. That doesn't mean Bradley gets a pass. It doesn't meant the talented players the US has shouldn't be hit with a blast of criticism.

The US isn't just a victim of their own failings, but of the success of Mexico. The arch rivals have scored 14 goals in three games, conceded only once, and just completed a dismantling of the a traditional top three CONCACAF team (Costa Rica). American fans can hardly be faulted for sardonically conceding the garish Gold Cup trophy to El Tri before the knock out round even begins.

And if the US should get it together enough to fulfill their role as unlikely foil to the Mexican Domination Tour? Angels of death await. Their names are Dos Santos, Hernandez, and Guardado.  If the US makes it to a showdown with Mexico, I don't think it will be a walkover, now matter how poor US chances seem, but few will feel like a repeat of 2007 is in the offing.

First things first. Guadaloupe, a team that in most years USMNT fans would see as a mere speed bump on the way to Round 2. Not this time, not with the ugly first 45 against Panama so fresh in our minds, and not with confidence in the cliched American resiliency at an all-time low. Logic tells me the US will be fine tomorrow night, that they'll find a way to compose themselves against much inferior opponent and win. I honestly can't say I believe it will be easy.

That's sad. Though it lays at the feet of everyone involved, it's Bob Bradley that will take the brunt if the Americans don't meet their - and our - expectations.

*I honestly believe where in a lull, a period of wheels spinning with no traction, before the new academy approach bears fruit. It could be 5 years, or it could be 10. The interim might be a tad frustrating.
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