Pentagram: USA v. Spain – Confed Cup

This was a famous victory for U.S. Soccer.  The lead sports story for news services across the globe.  USA 2, Spain 0, and the Spaniards’ 35 game unbeaten streak is at an end.  Most soccer pundits would tell you that Spain wins that game 8 out of 10 times; they are #1 in the world according to FIFA after all.  But not today.

Like Alexi Lalas says, ‘that kind of performance gives me hope’.  Yeah, me too.  And this on the heels of that improbable 3-0 victory over Egypt; suddenly the sky doesn’t quite seem to be falling.  Five points to the pentagram…

  • Landon Donovan for Captain.  Yes, Bocanegra was back in the lineup and wore the armband, but for me this was one of Landon’s best games.  He was absolutely everywhere, popping up to clear the ball, win tackles, and turn up field to relieve pressure.  It was like a preternatural combination of Frankie Hejduk and Claudio Reyna.  Dononvan was the best player on the field for long stretches of that game, if not the entire game.  With Spain on the field.  Yes, that what I just typed.  He played with true heart and fire.  There’s your Captain, right there.
  • Sometimes you have to be lucky. Both goals came off fortunate bounces that Altidore and then Dempsey took full advantage of.  And with the Spaniards raining in shot after shot and dominating possession, it could’ve easily gone the other way.  Tim Howard always seemed to be in the right place though, and the defenders always seemed to get a timely foot or leg in.
  • Total defensive commitment. As the highlight reel says, guys diving, running, tracking back like crazy.  It was a classic bunker under siege – the kind that seems heroic for the underdog and incredibly frustrating for the team trying to draw level.  We’ve seen the U.S. get broken down when applying this tactic in most cases, but today everyone was committed.  You’d like to see a little more composure to settle down and maintain possession, but against the #1 team we’ll take it this time.  DeMerit and Onyewu were huge back there, and Bradley, Clark, Donovan, and Dempsey must have run miles and miles tracking back to break up attacks.
  • Another ridiculous Red Card. This one on Michael Bradley in the closing minutes.  Yeah, it was a hard foul and he came in late, but again, no way that’s a straight red if the roles were reversed.  I’m starting to believe there really is a bias against the U.S. team.  I hope Sunil Gulati and the U.S. Federation make some kind of formal complaint.  Oh, and that ref – Jorge Larrionda of Uruguay – the same dude who ruined the U.S./Italy World Cup match in 06 by handing out two reds to the good guys.
  • What’s left in the tank, boys? Now Team America will face the winner of Brazil and South Africa in the Confederations Cup Final on Sunday.  Most likely Brazil again.  Coach Stoneface will not tinker with what’s been working, so we have to hope Landon, Gooch and the guys can dig deep and find another dose of energy.  Regardless, this is the kind of win the team can draw on when they’re down a goal or facing an elite team: they can look at each other and know that it can happen, that the U.S.A. can beat anyone on a good day.  That kind of self-belief may prove invaluable on the return trip to South Africa next summer.
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