Pentagram: USA v. Algeria

A historic win.  The kind of dramatic, clutch, blood-and-guts performance that can galvanize the country behind the sport.  Top of the group.  A World Cup win at long last…  As Alexi Lalas said after the game, “all the cliches apply.”

Sometimes you need a little comic relief to give you some perspective:  The Colbert Report.

Sometimes you need to step out of the way and let some of the professionals chime in.  We give you Grant Wahl of SI (live from South Africa), and the Tribune’s political wit (and soccer fan) John Kass – a great take on both the significance of this result and dealing with haters and the knuckle-draggers.

So much to say, too much to properly write about, so how about we get straight to an attempt at some post-game analysis…

  • Deserve’s got nothing to do with it. John Harkes and Ian Darke couldn’t shut up about how the U.S. deserved to get through, especially after getting hosed on those called-back goals, but I kept thinking about Clint Eastwood facing down Gene Hackman in Unforgiven. The team had to execute, they had to finish one of those chances, they had to keep running beyond 90 minutes.  Algeria was done.  Out of gas, out of ideas, and the only way they were going to score was on a bad mistake by our boys.  When Timmy made that save, fired that beautiful outlet pass, and we had five guys crashing the box…  Then Dempsey was stoned again…  And Landon follows up!  I was out of my head at that point.  Maybe sometimes, deserve does have something to do with it.
  • Bob Bradley is pulling the strings. Jonny Bornstein at leftback?  Disaster-in-waiting?  No!  Sound tactical decision that kept the Algerian right wingers under control.  Herculez starting?  He managed a couple of good shots on goal and combined well with the others (especially considering how few times he’s been capped).  Feilhaber and Buddle in the second half?  Check.  A year ago I was questioning whether Coach Bradley could manage the team, could make the changes, could recognize when to shift tactics.  And other than the problem of motivating the team enough to overcome those disastrous starts, he’s been aces.  You also can’t understate the team unity and self-belief he’s helped instill in these players.
  • Tons of scoring chances. After their customary first twenty minutes of speculative long balls, Team America generated a lot of good scoring chances.  As a friend at work said today, we could have easily had four or five goals.  I prefer to look at this as a good thing.  Because if you’re generating quality shots, eventually they start going in.  You have to think Dempsey or Altidore or Buddle will put those away next time.  It’s a lot better than Germany 2006, when we barely generated any offense.
  • Unsung heroes. Donovan has justly received tons of acclaim and credit for the goal, but a couple of other players stood out for me.  Jay DeMerit was a beast back there after a shaky first 5 minutes.  As the game progressed, he seemed to win every single challenge.  His timing was so good, I was confident they wouldn’t get past him.  Jozy Altidore fought and worked and held the ball.  He played a man’s game today, constantly posing the threat.  By far his best effort for the team, and as long as he isn’t completely out of fuel, you have to like his potential to score against Ghana.  Michael Bradley again controlled the middle of the pitch.  He’s always been a tireless worker and hard tackler, but his vision and poise have really improved.  Hard to believe he’s only 23.  And finally – the team’s training staff and fitness coach deserve all kinds of accolades.  They have emphasized commitment and endurance for years; today you saw a team able to run 90+ minutes at altitude.  Few if any other teams could match that.
  • The way forward. People are excited in this country!  The local sports call in show (that usually spends hours talking about baseball/football minutia and only bring up soccer to mock it) actually had some quality time for the game.  There are watch parties cropping up everywhere.  Interest is at an unprecedented high.  And now we get Ghana, the last remaining African team, sure to have all the local support.  Ghana, who’ve looked impressive and vulnerable in at points in all three games, who’ve only managed to score from penalty kicks.  Ghana, who we owe for that crapy penalty on Gooch in 06.  We could beat this team.  Some might say we should beat them.  And after that you get Uruguay/South Korea.  Let’s go do it.
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