Last year this time, I was singing the blues over the US National Team’s anemic performance in the 2006 World Cup and wondering if Bruce Arena had traveled with the team as a coach or merely a spectator.
One year later, I’m watching this immaculate strike over and over and over and allowing myself to dream a little about our prospects in South Africa come 2010.
The US’s come-from-behind 2-1 victory against Mexico in Sunday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup Final may prove to be a watershed moment in the Stars and Stripes’ march toward the next World Cup. Interim-now-permanent Head Coach Bob Bradley has brought new blood and a fresh perspective to a team that was mired in a mid-90s mindset. Down 1-0 at the half, he made the necessary adjustments to shore up a backline that was being shredded by El Tri forward Nery Castillo and stuck with Brian Ching despite a quiet first half. Ching went on to create numerous opportunities up top, including the chance for Landon Donovan’s game-tying penalty kick. To see a coach actually make adjustments rather than merely watch the match is rarer than you might think, even at the higher levels of the game.
But most importantly, Bradley is not afraid to turn his young charges loose on the attack. Rather than hunker down in a defensive posture and rely on the counterattack, the US wasn’t afraid to take the game to the Mexicans and created at least as many chances in the first half even while falling behind. Had it not been for a superb outing by Mexican keeper Oswaldo Sanchez and some spotty finishing on our part in the second half (DaMarcus–we can’t afford to miss open goals), the result could have easily been more lopsided. Oh, and let’s not forget a few acrobatic saves by US tender Tim Howard on the other end.
Benny Feilhaber? You gotta be kidding me. Who’s that?
Exactly. With crusty veteran Donovan–who is all of 25–screaming “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” Feilhaber turned a still-wet deaf ear, stepped up, took it out of the air, and nailed one for the ages. Ah, the impertinence of youth!
What a difference a year can make.