clap-clap, Sport!

Yesterday was a big day for sports in Beemsville.  The two teams we the care the most about, the two teams we follow with rabid devotion, both had vital matches yesterday.  When does that happen?  Both won and both won ugly.  When does that happen?

Illinois basketball, 57-49 over Colorado in the 2nd round of the NCAAs.

USA Soccer, 1-0 over Costa Rica in the final round of World Cup Qualifying.  In a freaking blizzard!

This strange confluence of sporting events is sort of like the visit of a comet or a particularly obscure distant relative.  It can only occur every few years, if the Illini are in the tournament on the same day the USA is trying to make the World Cup…

Let’s start with the Fighting Illini.  Had a good feeling about this game based on little more than an assessment that Big 10 defense is a cut above most of the other conferences.  Colorado is the best defensive team in the Pac 12, but as my brother texted me halfway through the game, they’d be about average in the B1G.

The Buffs looked to take away Brandon and DJ, and did so for long stretches.  The crazy thing about this game:  the huge runs by both teams, punctuated by horrible stretches of shooting.  This graph sums it up

Good Lord.  Illinois cannot go 10 minutes without a field goal and hope to advance further.  The good things about this game are worth noting, though.  The seniors hit huge shots when all looked lost.  The Illini once again looked more in control and more confident in the final four minutes.  This is, I think, the biggest intangible Coach Groce and his staff have brought this year:  he has instilled a level of confidence in these guys that allows them to execute down the stretch.

If he can get that done for this group, it bodes well for the future.  So now let’s go beat Miami.

The US Soccer team was in mini-crisis mode before yesterday.  A defeat to Honduras to open the final round of qualification and media stories chronicling dissatisfaction of some players with head coach, Juergen Klinsmann,  placed the game on the precipice.  Win at home against Costa Rica, and you head down to Mexico next week feeling confident; lose and it’s Defcon 3.

With all the injuries to the US backline, with Landon Donovan still on sabbatical, with Tim Howard out…  Well, it wasn’t looking good.  But Mother Nature provided a little bonus.  The snow was heavy and thick last night…

We submit to you that this played against Team USA’s defensive weaknesses, for the awful game conditions turned this into a longball slugfest.  It allowed Centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson(!) to win the first balls with their size and power and kept the Ticos from exploiting their advantage with the quick-possession game.

In the snow, it’s all about grit and timing.  Enter: Clint Dempsey…

Deuce was worn out by the end of the game and could have had a second goal to slam the door shut.  But he just continues to score when it counts.  Special mention to DaMarcus Beasley, who filled in admirably at left back, and to Jermaine Jones who fought hard while sporting the snow-fro.

Two players who stood out for me were Jozy Altidore, who’s starting to play as the power forward we’ve been hoping for, and Michael Bradley, who controlled the midfield for long stretches.

It was an ugly win.  A game that will long be remembered for the conditions, though not the soccer.

So now let’s go the Azteca and get a result against Mexico.

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