FOR ALL THREE OF YOU WHO CARE: I like a good bit of Bush-bashing as much as the next liberal journalist, but I think Matt Yglesias is clearly being unfair to the president on this one.
Concerning the US soccer team’s chances at this summer’s World Cup, Bush told a German journalist: “Whether it’s good enough to win it all, who knows? But I know they’ll try their hardest.” Matt calls the president’s assessment “troubling,” notes that “we’re fielding a very strong team this year,” and wonders why Bush couldn’t “muster a stronger vote of confidence in the squad.”
This is misguided. Despite its (absurdly inflated) FIFA ranking, it’s a stretch to call Team USA “very strong.” Compared to previous US squads, they’re not bad, but that’s a low bar. In ’98 they lost all 3 games, including one to Iran. And the celebrated 2002 squad was flattered by its quarterfinal finish. It beat an over-rated Portugal, drew with South Korea, and lost 3-1 to Poland (!) before beating a mediocre Mexican team and losing to an uninspiring Germany. This year’s model may be marginally better, but only the keeper Keller is truly world class. More important, look at the draw: If they get out of a group that includes Italy and the Czechs, which I doubt, they’ll likely play Brazil in the second round. Good luck.
All things considered, “I know they’ll try their hardest” seems like the appropriate sentiment. I’d say the president’s comments in fact represent a refreshing instance of allowing his judgment to be informed by the facts on the ground.