Remember the Alamo !! And…Don’t Tread on Me. Finally, the imposing logo of US Soccer has been rewarded with a victory that merits the suggestion the logo carries with it. The United States finally gave the American Outlaws, Sam’s Army, and many more of their die-hard fans the game and the win they spent countless hours trying to convince their football buddies they were capable of producing. They played a style that warranted the logo’s warning as well– with opportunistic attacking and fearless, stubborn defending once they had earned a 1-0 lead on Jozy Altidore’s strike in the 27th minute. The attacking brand of football they opened the game with helped immensely, admittedly taking the Red Fury by surprise and sending them a warning, both with a dagger from Deuce that just missed in the 10th and a deep Davies run moments before that, that this was not the American team that looked helpless and inept against Costa Rica and Brazil. I don’t mention the Azzuri, because in actuality the Yanks played solid soccer for thirty minutes before Pablo Pozo decided the game should turn in Italy’s favor, and that is not the Americans fault.
What changed ? To paraphrase Russell Hammond from Almost Famous, who finally answers William Miller’s question “What do you love about music?”, I’d have to say, in the context of Bob Bradley’s men: “Everything.” It was an inspired performance but one with controlled passion. (Michael Bradley’s dubious red card, which wasn’t even a yellow but alas the Yanks are victimized by Jorge Larrionda’s hot temper again, see: 3 red cards, Italy game, 2006) All across the pitch, Americans stepped up. After taking the early lead, they had no choice. Constant assault by Spain resulted in few American forays into the Spanish back third. Yet the U.S. remained together, blocking shots with the back of their heels, with their chests, with their faces in Jay DeMerit’s case. Tim Howard was the world class elite goalkeeper Everton fans know him as– stoning David Villa on two tremendous shots and turning Riera aside twice after he had beaten Jon Spector on the American right flank.
After weathering a particularly uncomfortable barrage from the Red Fury in the second half’s first 15 minutes, which felt like two hours, the Americans took a brief respite from the Horatius at the Bridge Act they were engaged in and moved forward. When Landon Donovan’s cross was mishandled by all-World Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos, Clint Dempsey was there to punish the Spanish and stake the Americans to a 2-0 lead.
The Yanks resumed defending their net like the Alamo moments later– except, in a strange turn, this time– the Americans held on, surviving the aforementioned red card and advancing to Sunday’s final where they will likely receive a reprieve and redemption shot against Selecao.
The real question remains– what does this victory actually mean– outside of shutting Colin Cowherd up tomorrow after his Spain 4-0 rock ballad he sang on air this morning. Quite simply, it isn’t the greatest win in American soccer history because it didn’t happen at a World Cup. That distinction will always belong to either the Americans 1-0 win over England in 1950, or more likely the 3-2 and 2-0 triumphs over Mexico and Portugal in 2002. This doesn’t mean that it didn’t matter to the Spanish, who played their team from the Euro Final a year ago and feel devastated to not have secured the longest unbeaten streak in the history of FIFA International Futbol. What it DOES mean is that the Americans can now understand that they have nothing to be afraid of against global powers. The imbalances in talent still exist– but they are smaller. They can, indeed, be overcome with passionate, team play. No one will confuse the Yanks with Spain– but it is a win, and one against the best, most talented TEAM the Americans have ever beaten.
The question now becomes– is this giant, progressive step one that will be a signal, a confidence-builder that bears fruit on this same South African soil a year from now ? Or is it going to be simply a brief flirtation with success ? The U.S. looks to be a low 2, or a high 3 seed when pods are announced for the World Cup and the draw is selected at the end of this year. This win should send a signal to other sides that treading on the Yanks won’t be easy. It should send our players an even more compelling message, a reminder that even without 1-3 likely 2010 starters, and with a year younger and a bit unfit Josmer Altidore, they can not only survive a group with Italy and Brazil– they can beat the best team in the world.
In college, there were always guys who “outkicked their coverage”, managing to date a girl they had no business dating. Let’s hope this win isn’t one of those moments– a “Man, I sure outkicked my coverage” moment that is simply that– a moment of greatness in a larger swath of time, an “eye of the hurricane” moment before the return of the storm that seemed to have followed this team from Costa Rica to South Africa only a week and a half ago.