Talk about a letdown. With all the hype and hope and build up of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the United States squad came out and laid an egg on the world's biggest stage.

I was really looking forward to the first match with the Czech Republic, especially following the US's solid play in the '02 World Cup in Korea. I honestly felt as though the Americans had a chance this time around, maybe not to win it, but to at least be competitive. Highly competitive.

That thought came to a screeching halt five minutes into the game when 6-foot 8-inch Jan Koller headed home the Czech's first goal. After that, the US seemed lost, over matched, and sometimes disinterested in getting back in the game.

Granted it was just a one-goal deficit five minutes in, so they had a full 85 minutes to launch a comeback. Had Claudio Reyna's shot midway through the first half found the back of the net, instead of ringing off the post, the game could have been completely different. Unfortunately it wasn't the red white and blue's day.

Once Tomas Rosicky launched a rocket from 40-yards out into the far netting in the 36th minute, the game was all but over. Rosicky iced it in the 76th minute with a nice flick over the outstretched body of US goalie Kasey Keller.

It was a disappointing start for a team with high aspirations and a fan base that is just starting to build.

"I think the players as well as coaches are a bit shocked right now," defender Eddie Lewis said.

Shocked would be a good way to put it. Head coach Bruce Arena took it even further when he publicly ripped his players for their poor play. Most notably, Arena was not pleased with Landon Donovan, DeMarcus Beasley, and Keller's performances.

"Landon showed no aggressiveness tonight," said Arena. "We got nothing out of Beasley on the night."

Now the team has the daunting task of making up three points with two matches to go. They actually sit in last place in the group after Italy defeated Ghana 2-0 later in the day.

While the Americans had numerous players appearing in their first ever World Cup game, it was no excuse to play as poorly as they did. Players didn't seem to want the ball, to attack, and to make plays.

"Everyone has to be brave and want the ball," U.S. captain Claudio Reyna said. "We didn't have guys aggressive enough."

While the squad is very unhappy with the result, and for good reason, they will have two more opportunities to prove their number five ranking by FIFA and quarterfinal appearance in 2002 are no fluke.

"It's not over," said Donovan, whose scoreless streak for the national team reached 16 games. "It's going to be hard, but it's not over."

Saturday, the US plays perennial international powerhouse, and often scandalous, Italy. They round out group play with a match against Ghana next Thursday, June 22.

It is time for the US to prove it is worthy of a top five ranking. Hey, maybe the team just needed to get one bad game out of its system and will play brilliantly from here on out.

Well, a guy can hope, can't he?

If you have any comments or opinions about this column, email Nick Browne at nicholasbrowne@comcast.net.

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