EDGAR ZUNIGA - Thursday, June 25, 2009
Let me begin by first stating that no matter what anyone says or claims, no one could have predicted what happened in the last two games.
As if rising from the abyss of elimination against Egypt was not big enough, the US then shocked the world.
Raise your hands - anyone - who thought the US could have defeated the No. 1 team in the world, the European Champions, Spain.
That's right…no one! This is why the 2-0 victory over Spain, breaking their 35-game unbeaten streak, is overwhelmingly staggering. At best, we were hoping for a respectable defeat.
So, all of you coming after me with torches and pitchforks, who are you kidding?
This is not the same team that just a few weeks ago got throttled by Costa Rica, and just this past week was taken to the shed by Italy and Brazil.
After the match against Brazil, I was simmering. In the back of my mind, I was cooking up something mighty vile and strong - and well-deserved. After getting whooped by Italy and Brazil, a six-goal swing was unthinkable.
I understand that I was very harsh in my last column, but someone has to be. US Soccer has way too much potential and resources to be mismanaged to the ground. The US media is too soft on the US Soccer Federation and the coaching staff. Someone has to take them to task.
After those first two games, it was sad to see that my worst fears were being realized. The only time Team USA looked like they had anything going for them was in that first half against Italy.
Understandably, the combination of being a man down and Judas - I mean, Giuseppe Rossi - was too much to overcome in the second half. But, when Brazil just ran over the US, it was apparent that there was no drive and no imagination. The US players looked like they were back in Saprissa - lost and scared. And, as usual, Bob was blinking.
Somewhere, fans were screaming for his head and there were cries all over the land for US Soccer to get on the phone with Jurgen Klinsmann or Felipe Scolari to take over before it was too late.
Then, the improbable happened. Bob finally found a winning formula and Team USA remembered to bring their proverbial balls to the field. As they should have done in every game, they fought and scratched for every inch of the field and rolled 3-0 over a very confident Egyptian squad that was still riding the high of defeating Italy. That is the US team that we have come to love and support. That is the US team that we have come to expect.
What sparked this radical change? They had become a completely different team and it was perceptible from the first minute.
Even so, there was no guarantee that Brazil would defeat World Cup Champions Italy, even less, smash them by the same score.
That stuff just doesn't happen…or does it?
Shades of World Cup 2002…thanks, South Korea.
Thanks, Brazil. That set up the match with Spain and US Soccer history.
This is why we love sports. Games are not won on paper; they are won on the field, where grit, courage and who-knows-what can overcome statistics and pedigree.
This victory shocked everyone, including ourselves.
However, getting to the final won't be enough. Now, the US has to win the Confederations Cup. Why get this far only to lose? Win the damn thing! Bring home a trophy!
However, even if the US does not win, the Confederations Cup will, largely, be seen as a major positive for US Soccer and Bob.
Well, one thing's for sure. The Federation will most likely give Bob more room to experiment and make mistakes and will be content with him taking the team to the World Cup.
Yes, beating Spain is hugely significant; this win has captured the attention of the nation, at least for a few days.
Nevertheless, what I said in my previous column hasn't changed. Despite the gutsy performances by the US against Egypt and Spain, our talent pool seems so shallow. It will take excellent performances from our current crop of players in every match from here on out to prove otherwise, and that the last two games have not been flukes.
Remember, this is the same team that nearly got smothered by El Salvador, just a few months ago. If Bob and the US are to be taken seriously, they will have to supersede CONCACAF and continue gauging their progress on a global scale. The victories over Egypt and Spain are a great start.
However, when a team hits such peaks and valleys, it is difficult to predict what exactly will happen next. Maybe the last few months have only been a speed bump, and the US is actually on the way to success at the World Cup and international prominence. Bob and company have sure slapped a smile on my face the last couple of games.
If only they played like this all the time.
Maybe they can carry this success to Estadio Azteca and finally beat Mexico there.
Remember that metaphor about the sleeping giant that woke up only to go back to sleep? Is it safe to say the giant woke up again? Or is sleep-walking?
If only they played like this all the time.
What's it going to take for the US to keep this up?
I mentioned in my last column that US Soccer fans should demand more because we deserve more. I mentioned that we all want to say that our team can compete with the world's best without having the Euro snobs mocking our team.
Well, take that, Spain! But, it's not enough. You know that somewhere right now, some Englishman or some Italian dude is laughing at Spain's loss and brushing off the US victory as a stroke of luck.
It is my most sincere hope that the US keeps proving the critics wrong, myself included.
Even with these two great victories, I am not totally convinced that Bob has what it takes to guide the US to prominence in the World Cup. To me, these victories were more the result of that gritty, balls-out attitude that is characteristic of great US teams of the past.
Although I expected doom and gloom for the US in the Confederations Cup, it never felt so damn good to be wrong.