As we close the books on 2010 and go through our retrospectives (including MLS Talk’s own awards) I wanted to take a different look back on the year that was through a different lens: what if what happened didn’t happen, or vice versa. Over the weekend I intend to take four 2010 events from American soccer and debate what would have happened if they would have turned out differently. And the first one is a big one.
For those who don’t know, ESPN Classic has been showing World Cup games over the past few days as part of their best of 2010 series. I had the pleasure of re-watching the Netherlands-Uruguay match last night, a game that saw incredible goals by Giovanni von Brockhorst and Diego Forlan in the first half, as well as the Orange advancing to the finals. But to get to that point, Uruguay had to beat Ghana, who the previous round had beaten the U.S. in an overtime game that would only be surpassed by their next. Would we have seen this Netherlands-Uruguay match-up had the U.S. beaten Ghana?
As a recap, Asamoah Gyan put Ghana ahead in the 93rd minute to beat the United States in a game that, for most of the contest, could have gone either way. The two big U.S. failings in the World Cup (giving up the first goal and no scoring from the forwards) reared their ugly heads again in this one – Kevin-Prince Boateng netted the first goal in the fifth minute and the U.S. didn’t have a shot on target in the last fifty minutes of the match. That’s not to say the U.S. didn’t have chances – Jozy Altidore (81st) had a great chance to put the Red-White-and-Blue ahead for good in the match, but continued his bad habit in the World Cup of pushing his shots wide.
But what if Altidore had converted late in the match? Or if Maurice Edu would have connected on his header in the 98th minute, and the U.S. won the shootout?
While it may not have acquired the fame of the Donovan goal from the Algeria match, again all of the news broadcasts would have led with an American victory celebration in the World Cup. If Altidore was the goal-scorer, it would have been the first goal by an American forward but, more importantly, might have given Altidore confidence that he could score in the World Cup going forward, and confidence is a powerful thing. If it would have been Edu, we would be remembering Bob Bradley’s 31st minute substitution of Ricardo Clark for Edu as tactical brilliance, not another example of Bob Bradley’s roster mismanagement. And Africa, the host continent, sadly would be eliminated from the World Cup a round earlier.
The United State’s next opponent would of course have been Uruguay and the U.S. would have rightfully been the underdogs. But would beating Uruguay been outside the realm of possibility? Consider Uruguay to that point. They had conceded only one goal in their first four matches and were known for their defense, but their best win was against South Korea. Their group turned out to be surprisingly easy, with Mexico their only real competition. Their scoring ability was another matter – the U.S. would have had a hard time slowing down Suarez, Forlan, and Cavani. But Forlan, who emerged as one of the stars of the World Cup, had seen his stock rising; he was not yet the unstoppable force. And don’t discount Bob Bradley – after four matches he finally would have had the lineup correct and would not be making the Ricardo Clark/Robbie Findley mistakes again. Jozy Altidore would have the confidence of a goal scorer, and the U.S. could have scored against the tough Uruguay defense.
So let’s take this a step further – what if the U.S. had beaten Uruguay? In a sense, it may have been a better win than the Confederations Cup Spain victory, seeing as Uruguay would have been a huge match-up problem for the U.S. But the U.S. would have advanced to the World Cup semifinals and added to the team’s mystique, gotten way more mainstream media attention, and helped soccer grow a little more in this country. Maybe players like Altidore or Clint Dempsey would have joined Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan as the major U.S. stars in the 2010 Cup, and would have been sought after by the big-name clubs like Gyan and Boateng were.
Now let’s assume the favorites naturally advanced from this match. This would have changed the World Cup in two big ways. First, FIFA would have been deprived of the match of the tournament, as Ghana-Uruguay was settled in penalty kicks only after some incredible play by both sides and, of course, the Hand of Suarez play. Speaking of Suarez, assuming he didn’t palm any American shots, he would have been eligible to face the Netherlands the next weekend. Would having Suarez on the pitch be enough to help Uruguay beat the Netherlands? While the Orange may have had a better starting eleven, Uruguay were playing well and adding one of their most dangerous scorers could have been enough to send the South American country to the finals.
What do you think would have happened had the U.S. beaten Ghana?