Shock and Awe | a USA Match Reaction

Admit it. You were tempted, weren't you? You watched the first half, saw the US up 1-0, but Spain having most of the play, and thought "this second half is going to be a bloodbath." You were tempted to just flip the power off and let that good feeling roll for a couple of hours before you dared to check the RSS feeds for the bad news. The feeling of being up 1-0...against the #1 team in the an honest-to-goodness competition. I'm with you, brother. I expected Bob's Bunker to be absolutely peppered and Howard to make at least ten saves, with another handful getting past him.

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 EspaƱa. 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.
So how did we end up here, kiddies? We've been getting our asses handed to us by quality sides over the last month, with just the limping victory against Honduras going in our favor before the Egyptian miracle match. Now we've beaten the best team in the world, a team riding an unbeaten streak of something like 400 games (hyperbole is your friend!), and we're going to the final of an international competition not called the Gold Cup.

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...


  1. Incredible match! You're right - the 4-4-2 is the way to go. We need those two mids to clog up space in front of the defenders.

    The back line was terrific. Superhuman effort to stuff shots and clear balls. Demerit was great. He is not a possession guy, but he works hard and gets his body in the way. Spector is the right back unless Cherundholo makes a spectacular comeback with Hannover. Frankie is still valuable, but his chances of going to the WC depend on Cherundholo's form and fitness and whether Spector gets a look on the left.

    Having Donovan on the left in the Frank Ribery role works well. Using Dempsey on top works well and he actually worked hard on the right today too. Davies is good but seems to fade after 30 minutes and neither of our forwards were able to spell our defenders by holding on to the ball. They were automatic turnover machines...but they can score and we have to like that!

    Bob's options off the bench were limited since he needed tenacious defenders that would not break up the karma on the field. Feilhaber and Bornstein were good options. Casey was better than what was left for the job at hand (though not by much).

    Looking forward to Sunday. Without Bradley, I assume Clark and Feilhaber get paired in the middle.

  2. It is my opinion that FATE picked this lineup. Ching and Hedjuk injured, Wynne showing he needs work, Beasley flubbing SO bad he might never play again, Klejstan with the RED, Boca injured and Demerit starts. (don't think we beat Spain with Boca and Gooch in the middle). Boca playing natural position.

    And people, SHOW SOME LOVE to Spector. Not offesnively gifted? He's the only guy who can really cross. He can DECIDE to overlap, or shut down the oppostion. Dolo Should have a tough time getting his job back, I like Spector more.

    Dempsey, Dempsey, son of a b%$ch. Altidore should ALWAYS be on the field.

    I'm actually glad that Bradley is out. We need Feilhaber's passing in there (South Africa were superior to Brazil in this regard, why thy stayed in).


  3. Whoa there, cowboy.

    I think you'll find upon review of Spector's crossing that he's hit more out of play than have found American heads in the box. One decent cross (that was more hopeful than anything) to Dempsey does not an offensive juggernaut make.

    And Jozy is the future, of that there should be no doubt. But what is also not in doubt is that he gives the ball up way too often and doesn't always make the smartest or most well-timed of runs. he needs to be playing regularly against good defenders to improve those aspects of his game. Hope a loan move can be worked out, and hope as well that Bob continues to play with two strikers, because Jozy's not ready to be a lone striker.