A Samba- flavored punch in the gut.

If you’re like me, yesterday, around 3:15, you were ecstatic.  Then, around 4:00, you were depressed, exhausted, worn out and unexpectedly disappointed.  The U.S. Men’s National lost in the final match of the confederations cup, 2-3 to Brazil.

The USMNT was not expected to make it past the first round. By anyone. They were in the same group as both Italy and Brazil and the other team in their group, Egypt, played out of their mind for the first two games, almost drawing Brazil and defeating Italy.

A week ago yesterday, the story of the day was that the US would advance iff they beat Egypt 3-0 and at the same time, Brazil were to beat Italy by the same margin.  It is hard to describe how improbably of an outcome this was.  The US hadn’t looked capable of scoring up to that point in the tournament, and as good as Brazil is, no one, and I mean no one scores three goals against the “we’re absolutely- obsessesed-with-defense” Italians.

Well, the improbable actually happened, and miraculously the US advanced to the second round.  It was an incredible jolt to the team, who had looked abysmal in the first two games.  However, their second round match was against the world’s top- ranked team- Spain- La Furia Roja.   The Spaniards look like the American League all-star team of soccer.  Their players hold starting positions on the world’s greatest clubs- (notably, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Arsenal and FC Barcelona).  La Furia had not lost a match in their last 35 when they took the field against the Yanks.

In a spectacle I will never forget, Tim Howard swatted shot after shot away from the goal while the US strikers actually capitalized on the few opportunities they had.  They played absolutely perfect, edge of the knife, defense, with every slide, tackle and defensive header seeming to just barely thwatd a goal.  The Spanish were defeated and the Yanks moved on in what might have been one of the biggest upsets in an international match in years.  Many compared it to the USMNT’s win against England in the World Cup in 1950.  I even read a few articles likening it to the miracle on ice.

So, the Yanks advanced to the Confederation Cup final in the most unlikely of ways.  Still the huge underdog, they took the field against Brazil, armed with a new-found confidence (having proven that they can actually score goals and withstand the attack of a team like Spain) and a totally different strategy from the first-round slaughter against the Brazilians.

In the first round, the US started with 5 midfielders and seemed convinced that they could just pull it in, let Brazil do whatever they want and eke out a tie.  Not so in the final, the USMNT played much more open soccer, and can you believe it, they scored a goal!  Then another.  Am I the only one who thought that in that second counter attack goal, Donovan and Davies looked as dangerous as Rooney and Ronaldo counterattacking for Manchester?

My place was in pandemonium.  None of us could believe our eyes.  The US was beating Brazil 2-0 at half-time.  This a pretty big lead in a soccer match.  However, one of my coaches in high school used to say that he’d rather be up 1-0 than 2-0, because when you’re up 2-0 you tend to let down your guard. You get conservative.   You start playing to not give up a goal.  It’s a funny thing about soccer.  It seems like when you play not to get scored on, that’s when you are often most prone to attack.

The second half saw Brazil scoring immediately.  I can’t get into the details of the second half without getting kind of sick to my stomach, but basically Brazil had the ball the entire second half.  We had no chances on goal and couldn’t hold the ball for more than 4 or 5 touches.  In the end, Brazil demonstrated what makes them so great.  They attacked through the wings mercilessly and were able to get two more balls (kinda looked like 3, in all honesty) past the goal line.

At the end of the game I was mostly speechless.  The exultance of the first half was gone.  I didn’t expect them to advance to the second round and I didn’t’ expect them to beat Spain.  I certainly didn’t expect to be winning 2-0 at half.  It was at half-time that, for the first time in the tournament, I actually started expecting that they might actually win the thing.  That’s what made those last 45 minutes so painful.  It was as if I had learned nothing from being a Bills fan during the period of 1990-1993.  Shame on me for expecting that the US would beat Brazil.

But what else could I do?  I mean, we were up 2-0 at half!  You know what? I don’t care.  This tournament was so important for the USMNT.  I think the world might start to look at us differently.  A friend at the game was like, “Ok. The US is never allowed to lose to Costa Rica, Nicaragua or Mexico ever again.”  I agree.  I expect the USMNT will qualify and I expect they will make the round of 16.  I expect (depending on their draw) that they will have a decent shot at making the round of 8. There, I said.  I expect the Yanks to win. They have all the pieces to start doing some damage.  Their keeper is the greatest in the universe.  Their defense looks solid when Onyewu, deMerit and Bocanegra are on their game.  Dempsey looks great going forward (terrible going back).  Bradley can actually score and Donavan actually started playing like a star. And boy, can they counter with speed.  With any luck, I’ll be there in a year to cheer them on in person.  I expect to watch the US win a World Cup game live.   Expect great things from this team.  I certainly do.

Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole! USA, USA.

Published in: on June 29, 2009 at 7:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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