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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.”

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  1. ken

    May 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    adu is the best soccer player ever hahaha the rest suck just not kelly

  2. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    June 25, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    I have gone from being ecstatic at this time yesterday to being worried that we cannot manage expectations properly and next year’s lead up to South Africa will be a circus with mainstream media types who don’t follow international football or this national team declaring us a contender.

  3. bayou

    June 25, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I agree with C Webb, I’m not comfortable with just two wins. I want to see consistency and consistency includes wins over European clubs on European soil as well as wins away from CONCACAF soil.

    These are the ups and downs of international soccer and while I savor this victory, it won’t mean anything if the US loses to Grenada and Honduras or draws against Mexico.

  4. Randy Capps

    June 25, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Good points, guys.

    I agree that the overall skill level, especially in regards to first touches and – for goodness sakes – tackling, is lacking at times. But the development curve is on the upswing. We’re producing good young players. It just takes time.

    I watched the match again on ESPN2 last night. The determination just jumped off the screen. It reminded me of a hockey game, where guys hit the ice to block slap shots with no regard for their safety.

    It was tons of fun.

  5. mikeinTN

    June 25, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    While watching the game last night on ESPN, I admired the technical skill of the
    Spanish side….but…a determined side will generally outdo skill every time. I was
    proud to think that three on the field were MLS players and most of the rest spent considerable time in our league as well. We competed with and defeated the best in a straight up competition! What a milestone.

  6. C Webb

    June 25, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Good thoughts, however I feel the need to caution you.

    This is what happens whenever the US gains a signature victory. Just like after the Itlay and Brazil losses, the overraction was predictable and likewise the reaction over this win is the same. Let’s see what they do on Sunday and in Mexico City next month. If something good comes out of that, then you can claim a big turn around the corner.

    the US are what they are, a second-tier national team that pulled off a huge win. Doesn’t happen very ofter I grant you, but it was fun to watch and experience.

    However, problems still remain with this team to get it to the next level. The American player still lacks an international first touch and first touch is everything in world soccer. They also lack the patience to work out of trouble, often just lumping the ball forward and hoping for individual brilliance to start an attacking sequence.

    At the moment, the US is very good at what they do. they play organized defense and can counter effectively. This is the best way for the US play. they can outrun and outlast most national teams in terms of fitness, but they need to find the balance between athlete and soccer player.

    Once they find that, well then, things will definitely change

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