Well, that may not have been the most elegant game of soccer the US has ever played. It was certainly the bravest.
After a game like that, long-form elegant pose are really not part of the agenda. Instead, here are some random thoughts on one of the most dramatic victories in the history of US Soccer:
The road was rocky, but the result was just. Aside from the Clint Dempsey goal that was unfairly ruled out and the fist to Dempsey’s face that should have resulted in a penalty and red card, the US controlled more of the ball and got more of the chances. Algeria were positive, and their early shot off the crossbar was a rocket, but the US played far better against a stingy Algerian defense than either England or Slovenia, and deserved the win.
Landon Donovan may have scored the winning goal, but the assist goes to the outstanding training staff of US Soccer. After 90 minutes of end-to-end action, the Algerian team was dead on its feet. In fairness, there are 30 other teams in this tournament that would have also been breathing like they were down to one lung. The exception had five players running at full clip down the pitch against the two Algerian defenders that were staggering back. For the past six months, the US Soccer training staff had been communicating with all the potential players about regiment that was expected of them, and most of Bob Bradley’s pre-World Cup camp was dedicated to cardio-vascular training. The payoff for all that work came in the 92nd minute today when Donovan and four other Americans created the break-away opportunity, flooded the box, befuddled the out-manned Algerians who had managed to totter back, and stuck it in the net.
That was a very welcome clean sheet. Make not mistake about it – the Algerians were well organized and very positive in their play. They were going for the win, and it was a real challenge to keep the ball out of the net. Sitting Gooch and starting the occasionally nerve-wracking Jonathon Bornstein paid off. Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit we tough as nails in the middle with DeMerit being especially tough, challenging for every ball and making some key interceptions.
I would be willing to bet that whoever plays us in the next round would have rather played England. Good, technical teams can master England. This English team has proved itself to be neither technically gifted nor physically intimidating. They look ready to lose. On the other hand, whatever the US lacks for in skill, they make up for in speed and effort – two attributes that are hard to strategize against. The US will cause problems to whomever they face.
CONCACAF sent three teams to South Africa, and two have gotten through to the knockout round. Not bad. Africa has sent six teams to the World Cup finals, and it is a good bet that all six will be headed home. That is a really disappointing showing, especially since this is the first Finals to take place on the African continent.
The Italians are not soccer fans. They are just fans of the Italian team. I am vacationing with my family in Italy this week, and it was remarkably hard to find a bar in Milan that was showing the game. I finally tracked one down next door to the American consulate, and even then I was practically the only one there to watch the game. I assume the country will stop and watch tomorrow’s Italy plays its next game, but it is hard to find anyone to pay attention to the World Cup when Italy is not involved.
It is nice to have a few days off before the US takes on its next opponent. That being said, another game like that, and I will have to find some nice Italian person to grab some paddles and restart my heart.