By Dan Bernstein

By Dan Bernstein

I’m not a soccer expert, and don’t claim to be. But I have seen my share of competitive sporting events, and I know a total embarrassment when I see one.

That’s what that was Tuesday night in Houston, where Argentina made the U.S. men’s national soccer team look like red, white and blue clowns, short only the big noses and floppy shoes, exiting the stadium all packed into a tiny car with a horn going “AH-OOOGA!” It wasn’t even as close as the 4-0 final score, with the Americans never seemingly allowed to have the ball, eagerly surrendering possession every time they had the chance.

The first goal was a header blooped over the flat-footed, derp-faced goalie just three minutes in, and that was it. The cheerleaders masquerading as broadcasters were left to try to make the best of it, eventually just marveling at the poetry that is Lionel Messi as his team did whatever it wanted to soccer’s version of the Washington Generals.

I know that Messi is legendary and Argentina is great, and that the U.S. was missing three players suspended due to red cards and yellow cards. But that’s no excuse for the most powerful nation on earth being that bad at something at which it’s purportedly trying.

They could not muster a single shot. Not one. And I’m not talking about a registered shot on goal that needed to be saved or even hit a post, but any kind of shot whatsoever. They allowed Argentina to have the ball for enough of the game to complete 622 passes.

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I’m not sure why I even care about this, since I have nothing invested in my country’s success at soccer or any other sport on the international stage. But there’s just something wrong here. Enough of a development mechanism should already have been in place to produce something more representative than that prime-time pratfall.

It can’t be a participation issue anymore, since millions of children are now playing the game all over the place from early age. There are clubs and travel teams and camps, and elite private coaches and select year-round programs that should be finding some American version of Messi, even if by accident. If we are really working so hard to compete at the highest level, it has to be better by now — all of the energy put into the sport actually resulting in something material.

The whole production on FS1 reeked of desperation, too, starting with jingoistic buffoonery more befitting a political convention than a sporting event. As if in some kind of fantasy world, announcers predicted a U.S. win and shouted that they were not underdogs to the best team on the planet. And then they had to find a way to explain why the U.S. got clobbered. It was just weird.

Every couple years we’re reminded to care about soccer and the fortunes of the U.S. team, the flag wrapped around whatever the tournament may be. It’s always the latest marking point or measuring stick, and it always ends up with some other, smaller country with far fewer resources proving vastly superior. The only thing that changes is the margin of victory.

At some point the United States needs to figure out why it can’t produce a winner at the world’s sport. Looking at the latest performance by their top team, we can start with them just finding a shot.

Dan Bernstein is senior columnist on CBS Chicago and co-host of “Boers & Bernstein” on Chicago’s 670 The Score.