91313_isi_scotland_usmntjt032610121095 John Todd/isiphotos.com
Foreign Affairs

A Scottish Take on the Nov. 15 Friendly in Glasgow

ASN contributor and Scotland native Graham Ruthven provides a fresh take on the long-rumored but just-announced friendly between the U.S. and Scotland in Glasgow.
BY Graham Ruthven Posted
September 13, 2013
2:21 PM
THE OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE from the Scottish FA bills it as a “revenge mission.” And indeed Scotland’s 5-1 thrashing at the hands of the U.S. last year hurt. But for Gordon Strachan, a November 15 rematch against the Americans forms part of a bigger recovery project.

Scotland must look to the future, because the immediate reality is somewhat depressing. This current crop has been labeled the worst team the country has ever produced, and with good reason. Should the team finish at the bottom of its World Cup qualification group—which is a distinct possibility—it will hold company with teams like the Faroe Islands, Andorra, Lichtenstein, and San Marino as qualification whipping boys.

That said, since Craig Levein’s dismissal as manager and Strachan’s appointment at the start of the year shoots of recovery have appeared, in the form of a spirited performance against England last month and away wins in Croatia and Macedonia.

In hindsight the defeat in Jacksonville, Fla., was the beginning of the end for Levein. The loss was followed up by two draws and two defeats, as Scotland started its qualification campaign with two points from four games. Levein was sacked soon after.

To those ignorant of the rise of soccer in America, last year’s defeat to the Yanks was symbolic of how far Scotland had slipped down the world ladder. The rather better informed, aware of America’s genuine stature on the international scene, the emphatic scoreline was the real source of humiliation.

I remember watching the game with a handful of fans in a pub that had been kind enough to "lock-in" past opening hours. One clearly irritated viewer, approaching middle-age, shrieked at the TV, “They don’t even play football!” There was a sense of embarrassment at the final score.

Scotland has improved somewhat since it last faced the U.S. Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Macedonia might appear irrelevant to the outsider (after all, Scotland were the first European side to be eliminated in World Cup qualification) but it signified a landmark.

Under Strachan Scotland has shown glimpses of recovery, performing well for stretches against Croatia, England, and Belgium. But in Skopje the team dominated and deserved its win. Gone was the ineffective counter-attacking game that faltered under Levein. In its place was a creative, fluent identity. It was the first apparent culmination of what Strachan has been preaching since he took over.

With just one World Cup qualification fixture left (a home tie against Croatia), Strachan will view the November friendly against the U.S. as an opportunity to maintain the modest feel-good factor currently resuscitating the national team.

While the Americans will arrive in Glasgow with much of their World Cup formula settled—with the exception of that troublesome back four—the Scots have yet to even mark the first number down on the blackboard.

Scotland has undoubtedly missed its two best players, Darren and Steven Fletcher, over the past year or so, with the former all but certain to miss out against the U.S. as he continues to battle a chronic bowel condition.

For a team consisting almost entirely of English Premier League players, the Scottish national team has become something of a wasteland for talent to hang "what might have been" over their heads.

At one point or another Alan Hutton, Barry Bannan, Charlie Adam, Phil Bardsley, and Steven Naismith among others all looked like established Premier League stars. Now their place in the national team is only secure on the basis of the potential they once showed. If Strachan can find a way to revitalize this group of wasted talent, the knock-on-effect will be profound for Scotland.

Hampden Park is no longer the formidable fortress is once was and the famed "Tartan Army" that fills it no longer roars and intimidates like they once did. Jurgen Klinsmann and his U.S. team has little to fear in Glasgow—not even "revenge."

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