Sergio Ramos Pique Puyol Capdevila
Fabregas Xavi Riera
Spector DeMerit Onyewu Bocanegra
Dempsey Bradley Clark Donovan
And you thought I was kidding when I said I wouldn’t be surprised by a US victory. Well, I was. But it was bound to happen. That’s this sport. That’s why it’s the best. And now a team that lost its first two games by a 6-1 margin is going to be in the final, having beaten the #1 team in the world, one that hadn’t been beaten in 35 games. My result of jinxing teams stands, and it helps to explain why I don’t predict Liverpool games.
I thought of titling this review “Fuck you, play me,” but that’d diminish the effort of the entire US team. Yet it was still eminently amusing to see Jozy Altidore, who barely got a look-in at Villareal and never featured for second division Xerex, announce himself on the world stage with a goal against the country where his club(s) won’t play him.
The US had two good chances in the first ten minutes – through Davies and Dempsey – before Spain’s first – Villa not far off the top corner with a wicked volley. Less than a minute later, Howard sprang a fantastic save on Torres, which was made moot by a incorrect offside flag.
This marked Spain establishing themselves with their usual game - passing and possession. Unfortunately, it was also one of those games where that passing and possession leads to naught. And, against the run of play, the US opened the scoring through Altidore in the 27th. Receiving the ball at the top of the box, he held off Capdevila incredibly well, turned, and fired past Iker, who could only deflect it on its way into the net. And that Capdevila’s his teammate at Villareal makes it even more delicious.
It was a Spanish onslaught for the rest of the half and most of the second, but the US held them off. I’m used to teams shutting up shop and somehow keeping a clean sheet thanks to following Liverpool, but I still don’t know how Spain didn’t score. Demerit, Spector, Howard, Onyewu, and Bocanegra (in approximately that order) were all simply immense.
I could rattle off more than 10 Spanish “chances” that could have gone in on another day, whether a defender made a last-ditch block, Howard came up with an excellent save, or a Spanish attacker just couldn’t get on the end of a cross. But the US goal was impenetrable despite Spain’s dominance in possession. And in the 74th, Dempsey again made the difference after moving up top when Feilhaber came on for a striker. Ramos couldn’t clear Donovan’s deflected center, steering the ball to Dempsey’s toe. 2-0. You have to be kidding me.
The game was won with hustle, heart, and the break of the ball. I don’t want to sound dismissive of the US by writing ‘break of the ball,’ but there were so many moments where if the rebound had bounced differently or a deflected shot that ended with a corner had gone in another direction. But again, that’s soccer.
And that takes nothing away from the US team. I have to draw the inevitable Arsenal comparisons; Spain is prone to the same problems. Even when the team is off, they still see a ton of possession, but can’t make that breakthrough and are often over-intricate in the final third. Yes, Liverpool being guilty of that probably lost them the league last season, but Arsenal’s better known for it.
More importantly, the US simply out-worked Spain, and each player put in a hell of a shift. It also helps to play without fear. The pressure was on in two tough early games against the likes of Italy and Brazil. They were holding their own against the Italians until going down to 10 men, and Brazil is, well, Brazil. But against Egypt and in 4th place in the group, no one expected them to advance. And everyone’s spent the last two-plus days predicting a Spain/Brazil final. Well, as American readers know, the media and advertisers gambled on a Kobe/Lebron final, and we saw how that turned out.
Still, this was the best I’ve ever seen the US defense. Dempsey popped up with another crucial goal despite the criticism he’s received from idiots like me. Donovan (really, when I write “Landycakes,” it’s with love) was absolutely everywhere, and was more important as a defender than as an attacker in the second half. It's a pity Bradley will miss the final thanks to another dubious red card (looked a ton worse at full speed), but Feilhaber's been impressive in his last two appearances, although that might be down to being used as a substitute.
I am disappointed in Spain’s performance, and, yes, partially with the result. I can’t help it. I like seeing Spain win. I’m used to seeing the US lose to better teams. But I am very proud of the US’s performance – honestly – and thrilled for Altidore, who I like as a player, respect for going abroad at 18, and desperately want to see succeed in Europe.
However, I don’t expect the final to look much like this. We’ll see how that prediction holds up on Sunday.