And then they do. 3-0. And they advance to the next round. After two dismal performances. They are through. In a group with Brazil and Italy– the Italians are on a plane home. And the Yanks are not. And in other news, Paris Hilton is the new ambassador to UNICEF. (Sorry– but Jen Chang had that coming after suggesting, and being right— that the sequence of events that was required for our boys to advance was about as likely as Paris taking on a humanitarian hero role. To Bradley’s credit, as it turns out– Sweedish speedster Charlie Davies turned in a highly active, if not entirely consistent, performance that aided the to this point pedantic American attack. The decision to start Guzan in goal was an outrage– but it seemed to work. Guzan did what Tim didn’t do on set pieces– getting out of his six and challenging balls in the air– and when called upon, he was equal to the task. I’m really not sure what the point of switching out Howard was, and given the long odds before the game it seemed inconsistent with the typical reason, which would be to get Guzan big game experience. Pretty pointless to experiment when the the rest of the lineup looked more or less like the lineup from the first two games.
Forgive me if my thoughts are somewhat incomplete or my writing choppy. The shocking nature of the events that just transpired, and the fact that I am not writing my “Why we need to move on from Bob Bradley” blog– an open letter to the US Soccer Federation that I had begun writing in my mind– is mind boggling. That letter is put away in the dark corner of my mind, and hopefully not even for another day. Because today is all about hope.
Bradley’s lineup choices are indeed strange– but the terminal result– advancing to the next round– silences a chorus of critics who had more or less put the program in a state of national crisis since noon on Thursday. The whole thing reminds me of a Lady Gaga song– I’m really not sure what the point of anything she says or does is in a song– but the final product is downright amazing. “Poker Face”. The U.S. head man got it done. He rallied the troops the last couple of days and was rewarded with an inspirational performance from Davies, whose darting early runs unsettled the Pharaoh defense and whose pace and effort resulted in perhaps the ugliest goal in the history of the American soccer federation. But a goal it was. And a fine day for the US Soccer program. Bradley’s decision to stick to his guns in the midst of a barrage of criticism is admirable. Count me among the loud and vocal. And don’t count me among the fickle who believe all is well. Yet his decision to put Deuce up front after bringing on Feilhaber for a gassed and hard-working Altidore was a critical one, and it was vindicated, we were all vindicated, when Deuce’s hard work in the box and subsequent header found the back of the net. Twenty minutes of defending later– the Yanks found themselves advancing and getting an opportunity to take on the Red Fury Wednesday. This is a huge step for the program and one more shot at a respect-gaining and confidence building performance against the World’s best. It’s the difference between finishing dead last in the tournament and having at least a fighter’s chance of playing in a final. All good things.
Best of all– the U.S. provided a performance filled with passion, emotion and an intensity not seen from this side in quite some time. It felt like a team that finally, with its back to the wall, refused to play scared, and instead of ducking and running for Gold Cup cover and a sure win on the Fourth of July against Grenada, they played the role of Horatius at the Bridge, defending the integrity of their fans and their soccer program from a brutal assault, while the Brazilians played the role of the Romans, destroying the Azzurri’s bridge to the semifinals behind them.
More later, but I too am emotionally spent and will wait to write player ratings and comment on the next task on the list of impossibles– defeating Spain after the long trip south to Bloemfontein.