Okay this is pretty far from lacrosse, but I am a huge soccer fan. Since I was home sick today, I was able to watch the US men play Spain in the FIFA Confederations Cup.
After narrowly making the knockout round everything was working against our boys. After going a man down against Italy, we saw our 1-0 lead turned into a 3-1 loss. Unfortunately two of those goals were scored by Giuseppe Rossi, an Italian born and raised in New Jersey! (FIFA's citizenship and nationality rules are fairly complicated.) Next came a 3-0 loss to perennial favorite Brazil. Heading into last Sunday's game against Egypt, all hope looked lost for Bob Bradley's boys. The only thing working in our favor was a fairly weak Egyptian side. In order to get past our prior failures we would have to beat the Egyptians by at least three goals and Italy, who lost to Egypt, merely need to lose by less than three goals to Brazil. Considering Egypt's performance (including a narrow 3-4 loss to Brazil) things did not look good for the Stars & Stripes.
With two of our starters out due to red cards and Tim Howard resting on the bench, everything indicated that Bob Bradley was phoning it in. For all intents and purposes, the team had its bags packed and was gearing up for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. When the team got hot and went on a three goal rampage things starting getting interesting. Backup keeper Brad Guzan maintained a clean sheet throughout. Then word came in that Brazil put up the same scoreline against the Italians! Almost through sheer luck the US made the semifinals!
Unfortunately waiting for us was a Spanish side that coasted through an easy group stage against Iraq, South Africa, and New Zealand. As the current European champions, Spain was enjoying a FIFA record 15 game winning streak and a 35 game unbeaten streak. Analysts around the world predicted the rapid demise of the US team against the world's number one team.
When Jozy Altidore scored the first goal in less than 30 minutes of play, I nearly crapped myself. Not only did the extreme underdog American team score the first goal, they did so against arguably the best goalkeeper in the world playing for the absolute best team. Clint Dempsey's insurance goal in the 74th minute demonstrated the perseverance of the Americans. When Michael Bradley (yeah, he is the coach's son) received our side's third red card of the tournament, I was afraid that things would go Italy all over again. Luckily Howard and the rest of the squad continued stone walling the Spaniards to hold onto the 2-0 victory.
When the US steps onto the field at 1:00 pm (our time -ESPN2) they will most likely be facing another uphill battle. Brazil will face South Africa tomorrow; the winner will be our opponent on Sunday afternoon. All signs indicate that Brazil will be our opponent. Despite our earlier loss to them, we will come into the game knowing that David already slew Goliath one time in the tournament. Brazil will be round two.
Either way, the US Mens National Team has reached the final of a FIFA event for the first time in its history. Hopefully we can continue this momentum throughout the remainder of our World Cup qualifying schedule and into the Big Tournament itself...
On a side note: Giuseppe Rossi chose to play for the Italians due to his parental heritage. He stated that it was his desire to win a major tournament and felt that the United States had not yet reached the point of contention. With Italy's early exit from the Confederations Cup and the US team reaching the finals, it looks like Rossi might have made a poor call. Granted Italy is the current World Cup champion and that title is the most coveted, but I would like to think that he has now cursed the Italians the same way that Marian Hossa seems to have cursed the Detroit Redwings...