I’m not in the small camp of folks who suddenly believe that everything is OK with the USMNT, after the 3-0 victory over Egypt in the final group game.
Think about it. What were your expectations for the US-Egypt match before the tournament started? To me, it was a match the US should certainly win. Maybe not comfortably, but something in the neighborhood of 2-0, with a late goal to produce the final margin.
(OK, so maybe I confused Egypt with Mexico.)
Anyway, while the 3-0 win was a solid result and there was certainly better play than in the two previous games – the result became notable because:
* Italy went all Red Bulls against Brazil. If Italy doesn’t lose as bad as they did, and the United States doesn’t advance to the semifinals, the 3-0 result over Egypt wouldn’t be looked at in the same light. In fact, my guess is that some fans would even be like, “Oh, sure, they finally figured it out – lot of good that does us now.”
* Our perceptions of the US and Egypt changed drastically in the week leading up to the match. Egypt put up two solid efforts in losing by a late goal to Brazil, and beating Italy. The US, of course, went paws up against Brazil and were hammered in the second half by Italy – both games where the US played significant minutes down a man.
Suddenly, Egypt were this new world power and there seemed no way the US could beat them. The 3-0 win was perceived as just short of the Miracle on Ice in terms of American sporting history. Our way of life was again safe.
But in reality, if Egypt played Brazil 10 times, how do you think it would turn out? Brazil would win 7 or 8, tie one or two or maybe lose once. If Egypt and Italy played 10 times? Italy would win five to six.
Before the tournament, if the US and Egypt played 10 times, how would it turn out? I’m guessing most American fans would bet the US would win six to seven times. So, was the result all that surprising? On form, maybe. On class, perhaps not.
Fast forward to this afternoon, when the US meets Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals. Expectations are now higher for the US coming off their win and somewhat miraculous advancement. But Spain is no joke. European champions, a World Cup favorite, and a team that hasn’t even allowed a goal yet in matches vs. South Africa, Iraq, and New Zealand. Now, that’s not exactly the Murderer’s Row the US faced, but the results can’t be denied.
If the US and Spain played 10 times, how do you think it would turn out? Unfortunately, I don’t think it would be pretty for the US. Perhaps fortunately, however, they only have to play once. So, it would be silly to completely discount our chances. The phrase, “Anything can happen,” exists for a reason.
But I’ll be honest – the result today is secondary to me. I really just want to see the US put together a solid game, with a sensible lineup, substitutions that fit the flow of the game, and a 100% effort. The US players and much maligned coach Bob Bradley could accomplish all of this and still lose 3-1 today. Such is the gap in talent. If all 22 players on the field play to their potential, Spain should win. Their best is better than ours.
Of course, I’m hoping for a win. Another shot at Brazil (in all likelihood) in the final would be nice. Such top-level games can only help development, in my opinion. The true benefit to me of making this round of the Cup is getting two more games. That wouldn’t seem as important with the Gold Cup upcoming and World Cup qualification continuing. But given how the first two matches went, getting additional opportunities to improve and find better form before those events isn’t a bad thing.
I want to see the US be aggressive defending on the ball; and show equal guile in the attack. Backing off Spain and letting them dictate play is only going to be a recipe for disaster. It is another stage against a top opponent, so staying away from stupid tackles also is vital. Clearly, US goalkeeper Tim Howard has to be on the top of his game. Players such as Landon Donovan must be at their best.
And all that could still lead to a loss. That’s life. But a good showing that leads to a run of solid form is important for this team right now, as well as for the man coaching it.