But a strange thing happened on the way to full time.
Sure, they got close, even had clear looks at net. But a body always seemed to get in the way, or the shot was scuffed. And when Dempsey scrambled home the second, you could see it on the majority of the Spanish players' faces. They knew it wasn't going to be their day.
And speaking of days...where does this one rank on your all-time table of big US victories? I'll give it a couple of days to sink in before I go printing the "Greatest. Victory. Ever." t-shirts, but it's surely in the top three.
So how about some talking points?
- Taking chances. Once again, I wasn't particularly impressed with Dempsey for most of the match. He was a little lighter on the trickery than in previous matches, which was good, but my two abiding images of him from the first half were (1) a Ronaldo-esque, hands in the air moment after a supposed foul and (2) his glacial closing down of the crossers on the Spanish left. But, once again, when a half chance presented itself, his special talent for being in the right place at the right time paid off, and he struck. Likewise, Altidore was little more than a "cough the ball up to the opposition" machine with a sorry assortment of heavy, negative touches. But when he got his chance, it ended up in the net. Let's contrast those two moments with the two chances presented to Davies. The bike was audacious, and I applaud the attempt, but he really should have tested Casillas from the headed opportunity. Unquestioned starter? Not yet.
- A defensive back four. I think we roll out the same back four if (when?) Brazil make the final. Sure, they wouldn't be my first choice against equal or lesser opposition as Spector doesn't sparkle going forward, and Bocanegra offers even less. But against a strong offensive side that will have boatloads of possession? Pretty damn good. Look, this was España. You're not going to not give up chances. You just have to limit the mistakes, stay disciplined, and anticipate situations. These four did that, particularly DeMerit and Gooch in the middle, each of whom stepped into various breaches with aplomb. A query: has Spector leapfrogged 'Dolo and the Dude at right back? If not, do you try him on the left with Boca and Gooch in the middle? Also, I wonder if any of the promoted sides in the Premiership have scouts watching DeMerit and happen to have a couple of loose pounds stashed under the floorboards? Count DeMerit's ascension to unquestioned #3 center back as one of the major finds of this tournament.
- Mind the gap! It's interesting that we looked much more vulnerable when Spain had the ball around midfield and Fabregas and Xavi were dancing about between the midfield line of four and the backs. Once things got closer to goal and we got compact, things dried up for them. Of course, much of that had to do with the ground the midfield covered in front of the back four, limiting clear looks from distance (And how many times did Donovan end up on the back line making clearances, only to pop up leading the break a half-minute later? Astonishing stamina). It's a shame that Bradley won't be in the final, because I can't think of anybody to pair with Clark that will have the range that Bradley does. Speaking of which...
- Refs hate Rico. Seriously, he suffered a handful of ticky-tack fouls that pretty much everybody else on the field was getting whistles for. For Rico Clark? Nothing doing. Is it just that he doesn't have the rep, or do refs just see something in his play that they just don't like? Of course, it wasn't he who saw the red this time out. Three reds to central mids in four matches has to be hugely worrying for Bob. Does it speak to our discipline? Our aggressiveness? Or is it just a lack of respect from the Whistlemen? I've yet to see a half-decent replay of Bradley's red, but it looked a yellow at most from the live shot.
- Conor Casey's clandestine cameras. Seriously, how else do you explain his continued presence late in games unless he's got some dirt on Bob? He holds the ball...a little. He runs...very little. He defends...with minimal effort. In what has to be the biggest game of his national team career, he's the sole front-runner with the side down to 10 men and desperately trying to kill the game against the best team in the world, and he's...jogging around like it's the Rapids playing a late-summer meaningless match against the Wizards in a three-quarters empty stadium.
- And finally...the 4-4-2 stays. We're not the sort of team that can possess the ball and dictate play against any sort of reasonably competent side. We need forward outlets and fast-breaking counters. We need two forwards to hold and run into channels. It's just a shame that, as I mentioned before, we won't have our two most dynamic and athletic central mids available for the final.
Is Bob a tactical genius? Not by a long shot. A motivational one? Then what happened in Saprissa Stadium, or at the half against Italy, or before a ball was kicked against Brazil? Is it any coincidence that no goals have been scored against us in this tourney when Junior and Rico patrol the midfield together, and we've given up six when they don't? Does that give you anything resembling hope going into the final? Then again, did you have any hope going into this match?
I'm still a skeptic when it comes to the Skeletor regime, but I'm a skeptic that's been duly impressed over the last couple of matches. The soccer hasn't been glorious, but it's gotten the desired results, and there were certainly moments to be proud of, moments where we shined. If this is indeed a warmup for what we can expect next summer, then maybe we can sound a cautious note of opposition against the baying of the internet blogosphere hounds. Of course, we could just be getting insanely lucky...