US Soccer: The Rise Of A Nation

A friend and colleague from law school wrote on my Facebook wall yesterday evening: Try putting that into words. He’s right. It’s been over twenty-four hours since Landon Donovan catapulted the United States to its first group win in the modern era, and I still don’t quite know what to make of what happened. I watched the replay and felt many of the same emotions I felt on first viewing, what I like to refer to as the “fan viewing.” The only ones I didn’t feel were the despair and agony. Certainly I felt shock that they couldn’t finish. Outrage that a second good goal was denied. Wonder at the relentless effort. Curiosity as to exactly where Landon Donovan went, outside of his consistently excellent set-piece service, for about fifty minutes of the match. Joy. Most of all, pride. Here are three final thoughts, briefer than usual, mostly because as I wrote the evening before, all that mattered was the result. I was a bit off though—it wasn’t ninety minutes for four years. It was ninety-four.

  • Bradley’s line-up choices and substitutions rewarded. Again.

It was a frightening moment for armchair managers everywhere when around nine eastern time yesterday morning we learned that Bradley has decided to sit Oguchi Onyewu, whose had his fingerprints on every conceded goal at this World Cup, and play Honduran saint Jon Bornstein in his stead. Bornstein, whose main claim to fame outside of sending Honduras to the World Cup last October is having his own twitter trending hash-discussion (#BlameBornstein) silenced everyone and rewarded his coach’s confidence. Deployed on the left with Carlos Bocanegra moved inside to steady the American center, Bornstein’s positioning was excellent and although he was a bit more cautious than usual offensively, he played a steady, safe and fine game, perhaps his best in an American shirt. It was certainly his finest performance since the 2007 Copa America, where I and a few other writers feel he caught the manager’s eye and earned perhaps too much trust for a fine performance against Argentina’s Leo Messi. The decision was a classic genius/idiot gamble—concerned with Algeria’s pace and playmakers on the wings—Bornstein was the quickest option on the bench. He was not turned in ninety minutes. Meanwhile, Bocanegra greatly calmed the American center, despite his decision early on not to do much one-on-one defending, instead adopting essentially a covering role and helping Bornstein not get turned once or twice when the Algerians played deep in the Americans third. The Yanks back four never seemed threatened on set-pieces, until ironically the save that led to the Donovan goal, and they won most every aerial fifty-fifty ball. I expect we’ll see the same back group against Ghana Saturday.

Meanwhile, Maurice Edu played a deep central midfield, but did so quite well both in terms of defensive cover and in terms of short and intermediate distribution. He won four-second chance balls on my count in re-view and the only real negative was being a bit long with his route one distribution. That’s fine when the positives outweigh the negatives, and here they did, as he allowed MB 90 to get involved in the game and move forward early and often.

Bradley’s substitutions were equally effective. There was not anything in particular wrong with Herculez Gomez’s performance but Benny Feilhaber quietly unlocked the Algerian center in the second half and in a game that devolved into more track meet than match the attacks up the middle allowed the U.S. to be far less predictable. It was easy to see how threatening the U.S. can be when they actually are able to build possession from the back, and Feilhaber was a missing distributive link in that approach.

Edson Buddle was the most disappointing of Bradley’s changes—but the decision to go for it should be applauded and Buddle was heart-wrenchingly denied by Algerian goalkeeper Rais Bohli, who played a heroic game himself, a few minutes after entering and finding a good position on a brilliant cross. DaMarcus Beasley picked up a yellow card for doing mostly nothing (it was alleged a handball), but he did do a fine job tracking back as a left back on three Algerian counterattacks in his twelve minutes. All in all, more good stuff from Bob Bradley, who is proving not only is a fine game-planner (we knew that), he’s an improving and gifted in-game manager. Most of all, his composure, no-excuses, no-nonsense attitude has been adopted by his team. They simply never give up. With all due respect to Raf, whose analysis was terrific for this match—Bob Bradley receives the Brain Ching Award for this match.

  • “Don’t Give Up. Don’t Ever Give Up.”

I think a great deal of folks at home had already done so. Where I was watching, tears were on at least a handful of faces, hands were on heads or people were simply walking away, unable to watch. For the final ten minutes, half of me was watching but half of me was tending to the despair creeping in, trying to find a way to reconcile the sadness with the injustices with the missed opportunities. Certainly this wasn’t a group that deserved to go home, I thought. It had been quite sometime since a country left a World Cup after the group stages without ever being defeated (New Zealand accomplished the feat today), and I just assumed maybe U.S. soccer would be perfect to achieve that goal. After all, as Raf noted here and many longtime fans will tell you—this is a national team that literally finds new and exciting and disastrous ways to lose. Pick up an injury and get behind Ghana 1-0, battle back to tie, then concede a penalty before halftime. Sure. Done that. Take a red card three minutes in and lose in the Olympics, only days after conceding a stoppage time equalizer to a less-good on-the-day Holland side. Absolutely. Lose a 2-0 lead in the final of the Confederations Cup. Check. An 0-0-3 World Cup, complete with two disallowed goals and countless missed chances: why not? This was just another in a long list of heartache for USMNT followers. It was also going to be a dreadful day for soccer in the States. Americans hate ties. There would have been three of them. American sport fans demand accountability. There were two calls that had potentially cost the U.S. games. There’d be no telling them the Yanks had plenty of other chances. There would be no defending failure to advance in a group with Algeria and Slovenia. That’s where my had was at the final ten minutes.

I just forgot the U.S. Men’s National Team seems to have the Jimmy V speech on a loop somewhere, lodged, as I wish it were for more of us, in the back of their minds. “Don’t Give Up. Don’t Ever Give Up.” They didn’t. Then Landon Donovan happened. Fifteen seconds changed everything. Now the fun starts.

  • Welcome to the New Fans. We’re glad you’re with us.

Jason Davis, who runs the great site Match Fit USA, had to issue a retort earlier in the week to a blogger who will remain nameless about soccer fans. The blogger’s allegation, “If You’re A Soccer Fan, You’re A Jerk”, found here, was essentially that soccer fans are elitist jerks, snobs, an in-crowd of outsiders that look down on new fans. I asked my best friend about it on the phone, and he told me that sometimes soccer fans are like that, even if it is a human and normal reaction to being made fun of by mainstream American sports fans all the time. I thought that was a good point, and after yesterday–when I received text messages from people I haven’t heard from since college football season, when I heard horns honking on Atlanta streets after “The Goal”, when I had a discussion with an older woman at the grocery store about “being proud of our boys”—I thought I’d build on that comment.

I hope we aren’t snobs. I think the notion we’re elitists, or the generalized caricatures made about the “American soccer fan”, most famously here, are just that—overreaching generalizations of the worst sort. I do understand that they exist, but I think you’ll find they are few and far between.

We do our best not take ourselves too seriously at The Yanks Are Coming. We try to be reader-friendly and understand that being mature really just means knowing when not to be. We’re always open to questions about the game, and if we can’t answer them, we’ll point you to someone (usually the dudes at The Shin Guardian), who can. We think you’ll find they’ll do the same thing.

So welcome to the new fans. Stick around a while. Yesterday proved how exciting a 0-0 game can be. This tournament proves how much the game can inspire and how fun it is to follow. There’s more of that to come, both in club leagues and in the future. We think you’ll like what you see. We’ve all been where you are now, and we’re still here.

PLAYER RATINGS

Tim Howard, 7—Wasn’t that busy really, even in up and down game. Made a nice save on Matmour in the 38th minute. Deserves credit for his Brady-like throw on the winning goal. He saw the play before it happened and got rid of the ball of a saved header immediately. He’s had a remarkable tournament, which we needed.

Jon Bornstein, 6—He was steady and didn’t get turned. His crosses were a bit off, usually too long, which makes him about the same as most every player at this World Cup. Only defensive play that was concerning was on an Algerian break in the first half, where he was bailed out on a questionable offside call. His pace might be needed again against Ghana.

Jay DeMerit, 7—Would be an eight if not for his mistake in the sixth minute that almost cost the U.S. a goal. After that disastrous moment, where yes—the US got a break—he was his usual lunch-pal self, making great tackles and sacrificing his body on a pair of long, speculative Algerian drives. Like the rest of the back four, he looked far more organized with Bocanegra directing traffic as well. I’m no longer calling things blue-collar. I’m calling them Jay DeMerit. Example: The Steelers embody the city of Pittsburgh. They are so Jay DeMerit.

Steve Cherundolo, 7.5—Had his first shaky moment of the World Cup when his miscommunication with DeMerit nearly set up an Algerian goal. Beyond that, his crosses were sublime, especially one in the 67th minute that found Edson Buddle and almost sent the U.S. into the lead. His link-up play was excellent and he had his most threatening offensive game of the tournament.

Clint Dempsey, 7—Fine performance by Dempsey who showed his spirit. With his lip bloodied and his pride doubtlessly wounded after having a goal called back, hitting the frame after being moved up top in the second half, missing a sitter of a rebound moments later, and having a penalty not called, he found a way to make yet another menacing run on the game-winner. On a different night, we’re talking about Duece’s hat-trick. He’ll take a chance at revenge Saturday instead. OPTA, a soccer based statistics machine similar to Sabermetrics that tracks such things tells us Deuce covered more distance than any other American, a nod at those who doubt his defense.

Maurice Edu, 6—Short and intermediate passing were good and he was greatly helpful in the U.S. controlling possession days after Algeria had done that deed to England. His long balls were a bit too long, which is a common thread at this Cup among everyone—but he was defensively stout and smart in his forward queries, remaining deeper than Jose Torres did against Slovenia.

MB 90, 7.5—I think Steve Davis of CNNSI is a fine writer but he’s crazy for calling this an “unremarkable night” for Bradley. His fine tackle and spin on the ball created the best American chance early in the second half, only to be denied by Dempsey’s shot off the post. I counted seven second-chance balls he won, meaning he’s up to 21 on the tournament by my tally. Continued his menacing late runs into the box and added a howitzer of a free kick that M’Bohli was fortunate to parry away with no rebound.

Landon Donovan, 7.5— Would be higher but was actually quiet for fifty minutes or so, only seen on set pieces. His delivery was B plus/A minus worthy however, and his patient run on the game winner showed his experience and ability to see the game unfolding a bit faster than most who play it. Probably got in Altidore’s way in the 38th minute when Jozy missed from seven yards, and before the winner I wondered if he had forgiven himself for it, given his absence for most the second half. Oh—game winning goal. Kind of a big deal.

Herculez Gomez, 6—On the ball I was a bit disappointed, particularly in his decision to shoot and not seek out a diagonal run by Dempsey in the seventh minute—though the shot appeared to surprise M’Bohli, in his defense. What was better than his action on the ball was the space he opened for others around him, his desire to cover ground for other players and track defensively. Had a chance to score before Duece’s disallowed goal, and the replay shows he probably should have.

Josmer Altidore, 7.5—The EPL experience that was supposed to be disappointing is continually looking invaluable. Has caused five yellow cards in this tournament, easily the most of any player in the field. His pace troubled Algeria all day and his pass to himself that nearly set up a Dempsey goal early in the second was majestic. One late run towards goal earned a dangerous free kick but a different referee would have sent the Algerian off. Should have done better from seven yards, but Donovan appears to have been in the way. Pass on the final goal build-up was a veteran decision most 20 year olds don’t make.

SUBS

Benny Feilhaber, 6.5—Excellent night this time around. Helped the U.S. do what it so often fails to—build possession from the back to the center. Link up with Bradley was outstanding once he moved to the center and he threatened the goal mouth on a piece of brilliance midway through the second, only to have his perfect cross deflected by M’Bohli. His defensive efforts weren’t unnoticed. Master stroke by Bradley.

Edson Buddle, 4—Made a poor choice on a cross after making a nice run deep into the box late. Point blank header was remarkably saved, but he needs to place it better when it lands right on his head. Couldn’t find space other than that and committed a silly foul in the attacking third late when it looked like the U.S. was running out of chances.

DaMarcus Beasley, 5.5—Pace was needed and defense was good as Algeria countered swiftly and repeatedly in the final ten minutes. Received a yellow for a phantom handball moments after entering, which as fascinating since he was clearly fouled in the box moments later. I almost felt like he was brought in simply because if Bob was going down—he was going down with the “Golden Generation” of Americans all on the field.

Neil W. Blackmon is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at neil@yanksarecoming.com.

Filed Under: June 2010

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  • They’ve got heart and that will go a long way against Ghana, who is rock solid on the defensive side. If they can hold possession and frustrate Ghana early, it may open up a bit.

    No more ties from here out. We win or we lose.

    As for new fans, I’m decidedly happy. I’ll readily admit to have been a jerk at times in the past when it comes to soccer – especially if it means rallying new fans, casual fans even.

  • Jenn Haas

    I wish I was in that manwich. I like Bill, but a shirtless Carlos… can’t quite put that into words.

  • Slick Willy drinkin a bud with The Captain!? America!

  • Brian Suggs

    enter stage right, kid rock with a handle of BEAM in his left and a topless stripper on his right and that picture gets submitted as LIFE magazine’s American pride photo of the decade! BOOM!

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