By Colin Donohue
The United States men’s soccer team never should have made it this far in the Confederations Cup. In group play, they performed miserably through two games, losing to Italy and being completely outclassed by Brazil. But they showed great desire in a big 3-0 win against Egypt. They finished group play 1-2-0 and needed Brazil to beat Italy by three goals or more (with Italy scoring none) to made the semifinals. Brazil won 3-0, and U.S. soccer was through.
They lined up to play Spain, the best team in the country, a squad that had won 35+ consecutive matches. And the U.S. shut out the Spaniards 2-0. It was a shocking victory within the international soccer community. So now the United States will hit the pitch in the Confederations Cup final at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, when they face Brazil again. (Brazil beat South Africa in the other semifinal game, 1-0.)
I am not a soccer expert. I’ve followed DC United pretty casually since the inception of the MLS. But that’s about it. Everything before this was recap, so it didn’t require any soccer knowledge. But I thought I’d take a brief foray into the world’s most popular sport in advance of a big game for the U.S. Here are my three reasons for the U.S. turn around.
1. Luck. There’s absolutely something to this. The U.S. did itself in by flopping so resoundingly in its first two matches. Think Tom Hanks from the mid to late ’80s (The Money Pit, Nothing in Common, Dragnet). Then, the U.S. needed to win by three and have Brazil beat Italy by three. They needed some luck and good fortune to turn things around. Think Tom Hanks in Big and through the ’90s. Sometimes you need the breaks to go your way.
2. Lineup Changes. I’m not a fan of U.S. coach Bob Bradley, but he did a couple of things smartly in the lead up to the Egypt win that he carried over into the match against Spain. First, he moved DaMarcus Beasley from the starting lineup to the bench. For all the talent Beasley is supposed to have, he’s also a loafer. He’s inconsistent and unreliable. Second, he moved Landon Donovan from an attacking forward to a two-way midfielder, whose presence on the back end and with the ball on his foot in the front end has been integral. Third, he’s been patient with Clint Dempsey, but also cognizant of when he’s tiring. Dempsey plays in the midfield, but he’s clearly an offensive footballer, which means he’s slow to cut down the side, so opposing midfielders are able to find alleys down the sidelines. Bradley sticks with Dempsey until the very last drop, which served him well against Spain, when Dempsey stuck with a loose ball and shuffled it into the net for the second goal. Bradley also knows when to pull the guy if he becomes a liability. It’s like that comic, Doug Williams, who Jamie Foxx upstaged after Williams began to falter. Foxx gave him some time to strut his stuff, but when the dude’s jabs and insults started flopping, Foxx stepped in to clean things up. Gotta know when to stay with it and when to move on.
3. Heart, effort and desire. ‘Nuff said. The U.S. needed to show some class and some real effort from the forwards, to the midfielders to the defensemen. The U.S. simply does not have the most talent in the world. But the players are fit, and they should never be outclassed.
In the end, I can’t see the U.S. beating Brazil in the final. I’m thinking a 2-1 loss might be forthcoming. But hey, if this team makes people care about U.S. soccer again, then that’s a victory that will last longer than a Confederations Cup championship.