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Monday, June 29, 2009

We Blew It

I did not have the heart to write this yesterday. After witnessing the best 45 minutes in US Soccer history, I was ecstatic. At the end of the first half the US national team was up 2-0 over perennial powerhouse and five time World Cup winner Brazil. Sure we had already beaten FIFA #1 ranked Spain, but a win over a Brazilian side that humiliated us 3-0 in our last meeting would have sent a strong message about American Soccer.
Everything - and I mean everything - was going our way in the first half. We would playing the most aggressive soccer I had ever witnessed from a US side. We were clearing the goal area like our lives depended on it. Our forwards pushed ahead in numbers. Donovan, Dempsey, Altidore, and Davies combined to make some very impressive passing strings. The give and goes were spectacular. The goals flourished with creativity. Everything that plagued US Soccer disappeared in those 45 minutes. Going into halftime, the Brazilians' heads hung as though they knew their end was near.
Then everything changed. Our cockiness edged out our concentration. The team was no longer in full on attack mode. Instead they retreated to the old "bunker and defend" system that has been our albatross for over a decade. Playing a much weaker style allowed the Brazilians to score their first goal within the first two minutes of the second half. It was downhill from there. Our cockiness gave way to panic. Our panic caused as systematic breakdown which eventually led to two more Brazilian goals. Our 2-0 lead at the start of the second half became a 2-3 loss by the full 90.
In our first chance to win a FIFA tournament, we defeated ourselves. Not to take anything away from uber-talented Brazil, but that game was ours. Had we come out in the second half with the same focus, same determination, and same game plan, we would have won. Brazil was completely unprepared for an aggressive US side and panicked as we coordinated attacks with militaristic precision. The failed to find a way around our stone wall of defense. They cringed as even their most tricky shots were flicked away with relative ease by Tim Howard. Yet we came out in the second half playing in our old and familiar way to give Brazil the opening they needed.
At least a couple of good things can be taken from this tournament. First, we took home second place in a FIFA tournament. this will help our confidence as we continue our qualifications for the World Cup next year. Second, we saw some new faces on the USMNT and we saw some new strength in a few returning players. Many of these guys are currently playing in the top European leagues. Our bench continues to get deeper and more talented; this will only help us before better in the future. Third, we learned that when the chips are down, the USMNT has the gumption to pull together and conquer a stronger enemy (Spain). This will be vital to our success in the World Cup. Fourth, we dominated Brazil for a full 45 minutes. Once we learn how to play a full 90 like that, we will reach soccer superpower status.
This week the US begins its quest to become the first team to win three straight CONCACAF Gold Cups since Mexico in 1993-1999. The roster will be significantly different from the Confederations Cup squad; many of the players will come from Major League Soccer teams as the games are in the US and those players will be the most familiar with the current weather conditions. Coverage of the USMNT in English begins on Saturday (7/4) on Fox Soccer Channel (MediaCom 212). Other nations will be broadcast in Spanish on Galavision, Telefutura, and Univision.

Tribe 7