FROM THE ABYSS TO HEAVEN
RECAPS
EXTRA TIME
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.

Simply amazing.

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.

What then?

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.
Brandon
Monday June 29, 2009 9:22 am
Well, you never did say what clicked.... but I can fill it in. By default, BB finally figured his defense out and has Demerit and Spector and Boca all in together. With the solid play of the Defense, the offense can open up more and take advantage of their speed and size. Bornstein, Califf, and a host of others had their chances, but Demerit and Spector shone. Lets hope that BB does not drop back to Hejduk for the Mexico game. It took two bad games for him to drop Beasley, when it should have taken two bad plays to figure it out. BB had better start picking on form and not history, and he if doesn't, he should be history!
lee shelley uk
Saturday June 27, 2009 7:10 pm
i agree with all said,i follow the usa team all over the world,from my base in the uk,this team needs time to devolpe,i hate dissing our players (the whole world does anyway) but bornstien,casey,beasley are not international players, just not good enough,i think sun will be close,but we will lose by 1 goal,WE NEED A COACH OF PEDIGREE,BRADLEY'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH, GET KLINSMAN....
jimmygreaves
Saturday June 27, 2009 6:41 pm
"And we may have beaten Spain on the day, but there is no doubt Spain had an off day. Look how many shots Howard would normally be picking out of the back of the net that either were shanked or were hit right to him.- Bill W."

Mr. W. - I saw the same game. The reason why those shots "were shanked or were hit right to him" was that the US played good team defense. When a team plays good team defense, the opponents are closed down so they do not have the time and space to get clear shots. Spain's off day was forced on them by the US. Of course, anyone can play like this they just have to have the intelligence, practice, stamina strength, speed and courage to continue for 90 minutes. Oh and they also have to have enough skill to be able to take advantage of whatever scoring opportunities come their way. Spain has all these things but the US did not let them use them. Spain really had very few clear opportunities. With the exception of one David Villa shot, Howard did not make any exceptional saves; like all the best goalies, he just saved everything he was supposed to.

Like you, I have noticed the US gives the ball away far too easily. However, they did not do so as much in the Spain game and lets hope they don't against Brazil. I understand you do not like Bradley but you are stuck with him (and most of these players) until the World Cup is over so perhaps you should get used to it.
trafford1158
Saturday June 27, 2009 12:19 am
Coach Bradley is a slow learner. I and other bloggers elsewhere have over the last 18 months clamored for the back four line that the US coach finally used last Wednesday again Spain. I unterstand that Benny Feilhaber will start again Brasil on Sunday. Did Benny grow up in Brasil? I have the sneaky feeling that Benny will play a large part in the outcome of the game this Sunday!
desnyg
Thursday June 25, 2009 5:31 pm
Great read. Couldn't have agreed more. The jury is still out on Bradley. Lets see if he sticks with the changes... Boca at lb, demerit at cb, two forwards up top, and most important no Sacha and Beasley. Can't wait for the final.
Tim S.
Thursday June 25, 2009 12:54 pm
Couldn't agree any more with almost all of your points. Kudos to the American fans and media (mostly Internet media) for taking the team and Bradley's player selection and tactics to task. It seems he does have the ability to make some changes and actually realize players such as Beasley and Kljestan weren't getting the job done and NEEDED TO TAKE A SEAT.

I could see this finally resulting in some consistency and cohesion in this line-up, plus Jermaine Jones taking the place of Clark, and basically being the group to start at the World Cup. Granted, injuries and form with their club teams will factor in, but the arrow is finally pointing up after many (including me) were e-mailing Gulati and joing the "Fire Bob Bradley" Facebook page.
Ravey
Thursday June 25, 2009 12:41 pm
Well, its wonderful that everyone is demanding more from the US. Thats how good teams are made.

However, US wins two games and they are good? If Americans are satisfied with "lucky" qualifications...then you get the coach and team you deserve. US took 4 shots on goal and scored two against Spain? Could the US win be a down side to soccer showing that force is more important than technique? I say no! America played a smart game, and this is what make soccer great, the bad team CAN win if they execute good strategy!

US finally played how they should have played from the start. Needless to say the Spaniards were cocky and unaware of USA capabilities. They deserve the loss...and the US deserves the win. But it is funny how people are proud that the US made it this far on a miracle classification...demand a little bit more guys. Being blind followers doesn't make a good team...so get real!

The Spanish YELLOW on their shield really came through. They have always been known for being YELLOW losing games with great players, and the UEFA WIN was the first big FIFA win by the Spaniards have ever had.

They are cocky and deserved the loss! Soccer is not fair and its unforgiving. Anyone who has played knows this..

Viva USA!
Kyle
Thursday June 25, 2009 11:26 am
The only thing I fault Coach Bradley for was the total lack of energy in the Brazil game. That game was the debacle for me. Bradley is as good a coach as we've ever had. I will never stop calling for Sunil Gulati's head at USSF. This country is teeming with talent and that organization or lack thereof continues to squander it with a backwards system.
tim
Thursday June 25, 2009 10:35 am
So we dog the USA continually even though France has disappeared off the world s vtage, Italy flamed out of the Confed Cup, and England hasn't done diddly in years. Look at teams who have missed the Cup recently like England, Holland, etc -- they go through rebuilding, challenging times, trying to find right combination. The USA has been pretty consistent with some spark recently. We played a Spanish Team that they said we had no one on our roster who could start for them --- the Italy game was a man down issue. Tell me why Bradley got a red card while the guy that took out Clint's knee with a late slide got yellow? We simply don't have the technical soccer talent to be a Brazil, but we have the heart of a Lion rather than the Spanish yips. Viva USA.
Luis Ramon
Thursday June 25, 2009 9:57 am
Below were my comments in Facebook prior to the match against Spain.
I believe there will be NO miracle tomorrow in South Africa? Team USA will show the world they can play on the World stage and that soccer in America is not 10 years away from European countries but can play with the best NOW!!! Go Team USA!!!! June 23 at 2:31pm

Today at 11:25 a.m. on ESPN. Que Viva Espana solo en Espana y no hoy en Sur Africa!!Go Team USA!!! June 24 at 9:06 a.m.

Today, June 25 at 6:51 a.m. Win the Confederation Cup!!! The sleeping is over and now prove to the World on Sunday the in 2010 that Team USA is a team of international prominence.
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