Can the U.S. national team ride the wave?
Today is a good day.
The sky is a bit more blue, the air carries a hint of possibility and the birds are signing Better Than Ezra tunes.
Because today is the first day of a new era of American soccer.
Of course you know that the United States beat Spain, 2-0, Wednesday at the Confederations Cup.
Now, my friends cover the entire spectrum when it comes to the beautiful game.
I know people that refer to soccer as “a communist sport.” I know other people who, like me, are walking around channeling the Special One this morning:
“Shut up, Europe!”
No matter where you come down on the beautiful game, if you bleed red, white and blue, you’ve got to love what went down yesterday and, by extension, what’s happened to American soccer during the last four days.
- The impossible scenario that faced the U.S. on Sunday before its final group match with Egypt, a team that lost to mighty Brazil on a 93rd minute penalty and blanked Italy 1-0, was this: Beat the Pharaohs by at least three goals and hope for a matching result from Brazil over Italy. Somehow, someway it happened.
- So, buoyed by the fact that they had escaped the group stages by overcoming long odds (9,000-to-1 was the English bookmakers’ line on the States advancing on Sunday morning), the Americans entered Wednesday’s game against the reigning European champions and current top-ranked team in the world, Spain, playing with the proverbial house money.
- Still, playing free and easy wasn’t likely to be enough against a team that had gone 35 matches without a loss, including 15 straight victories. A team that features a laundry list of the world’s best players – Fernando Torres (Liverpool), David Villa (Valencia, for now), Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Carlos Puyol (Barcelona) and on and on. Let me put it this way. With the possible exceptions of Oguchi Onyewu and Landon Donovan, no American would see the field on that squad.
So, the odds were long again. But, despite being out-shot (11-4), enduring another dubious red card and three times as many corner kicks (9-3), not to mention getting absolutely dominated in the possession stats, the United States made the most of the chances it created by getting goals from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey in a stunning 2-0 win.
So what does it all mean?
Personally, I think a new day is dawning.
Our Gold Cup win over Brazil in 1998 was nice, but it came on our home soil in a game we really didn’t need to win. The victory over Portugal in the 2002 World Cup was great, but it happened in Asia (read: the middle of the night) and it didn’t really resonate with the public.
This one feels different.
The U.S. team had come under a great deal of scrutiny, and rightfully so, after some awful, low-effort performances against Italy and Brazil.
It’s as if a switch has been flipped, clueing the national team into something that some of its fans have been feeling for quite some time.
We want more.
It’s not enough to just show up in South Africa, get your three games of World Cup practice in and then go home and gear up for the Gold Cup.
We want heart. We want hustle. We want a burning desire to win every ball, get the uniform dirty and play hard for your country.
We got that yesterday.
And when something like that happens, it can transcend the boundaries of the normal sports fan.
Jim Rome, radio and TV host and known soccer hater, led his show yesterday by congratulating the U.S. team for its win. Even the biggest non-believers in soccer have to take their caps off to the red, white and blue today.
Soccer is not where I wish it was in this country. We are No. 14 in the latest FIFA World Rankings and if a team on either side of us on that list, Paraguay or the Czech Republic, did what we did yesterday, they’d still be dancing in the streets of Asuncion or Prague.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day and the roaring passion that burns for this game in Europe or South America can’t be fostered overnight.
But every fire that rages anywhere on this planet begins the same way.
With a spark.
Very much like the one that happened yesterday.
So, you don’t have to love soccer. But anytime a team sells out and shocks the world – for you, you’ve got to tip your cap.
And maybe someday, you’ll even stand up and cheer…
They said it
“If you’re not ready to defend for your life against a team like Spain, then you’re in big trouble,” defender Jay Demerit said.
“It’s a big day for us and one of the biggest moments in our history,” defender Carlos Bocanegra said. “It’s hard to believe right now; it hasn’t really sunk in. There were a lot of acrobatic, sliding blocks. One guy would be sliding in to clear the shot away, and another guy would come in behind to clean it up. The defense was amazing, but it wasn’t just the defenders – the whole team worked the slam the door shut.”
“We knew we were going to have to defend for our lives,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “To pull off a shock win like this you have to defend like your life actually depends on it.”