Brazil rally delays US ‘Field of Dreams’

Each time the US Men’s National Team goes into a major tournament, the media paints it as a seminal moment for the sport knowing full well how much the odds are against the Red, White, and Blue.

The soccer hating media and their dutiful army of Everyman clones wait in giddy anticipation for the inevitable demise of the US team. There is a wave of cynicism, glee, and dare I say, relief each time the US falters. Soccer doesn’t get the patriotic love and support seen for Olympic teams and the Ryder Cup.

The great fear for the haters is that one day, the US Men will climb that mountain and the common man and woman will decide for themselves that liking soccer is cool and a patriotic thing to do leaving haters with the choice of being seen as uncool or joining the party. This past week was a roller coaster of emotions for soccer lovers and haters alike.

The US trip to the 2009 Confederations Cup started out true to form with brutal losses to Italy and Brazil giving up six goals and scoring one.  People who didn’t know an offside trap from a indirect free kick suddenly called for Bob Bradley’s head. This looked hopeless until the dual miracle of a 3-0 US win over African Champions Egypt and a three goal loss by Italy to Brazil got the US into the semifinals.

The reward for the US was a date with the European Champions Spain, a team in the midst of an international record 15 game win streak and 35 game unbeaten streak. The US shocked Spain and a world wide audience with a pair of goals and survived heavy Spanish pressure in the second half for one of the most impressive wins in American soccer’s history. That result set up the showdown against Brazil in the final.

The power of Brazilian soccer’s status is such that even the most jaded soccer haters understand what it represents. The five time World Cup winners define the essence of the game with a flair and purety that often defies description. Surely a Brazil team that humilated the US 3-0 in the group stage would have no problems in the title match. 

The game defied every lie about soccer being low scoring and boring. The US took a 2-0 lead on goals by Clint Dempsey in the 10th minute and Landon  

Tim Howard 2009 Confederations Cup Golden Glove Winner

Tim Howard 2009 Confederations Cup Golden Glove Winner

 

Donovan in the 27th minute. But Brazil served notice the game was far from over with waves of attacks that only the heroics of Tim Howard with at least a half dozen spectacular saves and the US defense that frustrated their more celebrated opponents. 

Luis Fabiano brought Brazil back into the game right after halftime turning an uncontested feed into a 360° spin and shot that eluded Jay DeMerit and Tim Howard to cut the lead to one.  Fabiano scored the equalizer in the 74th minute on a feed from Kaka on a counterattack from deep in Brazilian territory.

The end came in the 84th minute when Lucio climbed over Clint Dempsey and headed home the winner. Exhausted, the US could not mount an effective comeback and Brazil held the ball in the final minutes.

In less than a week, the US team went from looking shaky and uncertain to having a bit of swagger showing it could play against the best the world has to offer.  A major part of the improvement was the insertion of Carlos Bocanegra at left back made possible by the emergence of Jay Demerit as a center back. Landon Donovan played some of the best soccer of his career against big teams as did Clint Dempsey. Still missing in action is Freddy Adu unable to find a way off the substitutes bench onto the field.   

The challenge for the US is to follow up the success of the Confederations Cup with another Gold Cup title. While it is a tournament soccer purist love to decry, momentum is momentum and key to impressing FIFA for the seeding teams for next summer’s World Cup.

Then on August 12th the US goes to Mexico City for a critical World Cup qualifier where they have never won. Mexico currently sits fourth in CONCACAF qualifying and a loss to the US could bury them.

Coming in second place in the Confederations Cup that pits the champions of soccer’s regional federations is a huge accomplishment for the US.  The underwhelming reaction from the mainstream media was predictable. They couldn’t focus on the games, the players and the competition. There were even a few borderline comments about the South African crowds that have the potential to spark a firestorm of controversy next summer.

Many media personalities diverted the story into same old tired referendum about whether or not this was the moment that elevated soccer as an American spectator sport. The question was loaded since few if any soccer fans are delusional enough to believe a single game alone can silence those committed to ridicule soccer and its fans.

Of course the answer was a resounding no, it will never happen. But never is an awfully long time and things change.  Hispanics will represent a huge percentage of the population in less than 20 years and the old guard media that expends so much energy explaining why Americans don’t like soccer are an endangered species in the new order of things media related. So never is a pretty strong statement.

Soccer fans in America know the drill well by now. The media tosses out the same old tired stereotypes and jokes about soccer hoping no one will notice. As long as the US fails to inspire with a team that struggles to compete on a world stage, there is no danger of soccer being much more than it is now. But this was a sign of things to come.

The US Under 17’s and Under 20’s have beaten Brazil in the past couple of years and it is not so far fetched that the big boys could soon duplicate the feat. Developing players to compete with Brazil, stride for stride and touch for touch is a frustrating process but to not believe it attainable would be – well, unAmerican.

Call it American arrogance or simply acknowledging we are a country of bandwaggoners, winning ultimately solves the problem with the American public and media. When the US Men routinely beating the Italians, Spaniards and Brazilians, the fans will come and the soccer hating media will follow.

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~ by zrwoodard on June 30, 2009.

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