Sunday, June 21, 2009

Anything Is Possible

Photo Credit. Vladimir Rys/ Bongarts/ Getty Images

It's unbelievable what just happened.

The United States had the odds stacked against them today.

Advancing to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup was such a huge improbability that all anyone wanted today was a game they could be proud of, unlike the squad's 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Brazil.

Advancing to the semi-finals seemed so out of reach that Bob Bradley decided to give starting goalkeeper Tim Howard a breather and start backup Brad Guzan to get some key experience.

They needed to beat Egypt by three goals, which seemed impossible given that they scored only one goal in the past two games, and that one goal was from a penalty kick.

In addition to winning by three, Brazil needed to beat Italy by three, another improbability given the talent Italy has on its roster, not to mention being the defending World Cup champions.

Yet all of this was improbable, not impossible.

Brazil surprisingly took a 3-0 lead into halftime against Italy, with the help of an own goal. The Americans needed to take advantage of the opportunity given to them.

Starting Charlie Davies alongside Jozy Altidore paid immediate dividends for the U.S. team.

Davies' speed was problematic for the Egyptian defense all game, as he was able to get behind the defense and be on the receiving end of slicing through balls as well as opening up the field for the team's other playmakers.

It was Davies' hustle that started the U.S. attack, sticking with a loose ball inside the six-yard box and knocking it in for the 1-0 lead in the 21 minute.

His heart and hard play rubbed off on the rest of the squad.

The Americans were a much more aggressive team today than they have been in quite some time. They created more chances for themselves, continually pressed the defense, and finished their chances.

They were also much more disciplined in today's match.

For starters, they did not allow a goal in the first ten minutes.

Allowing a goal so early can really crush a team's spirit, while conversely giving momentum to the scoring squad.

Also, no one earned a red card.

Playing a man down really hurts a team. More space is opened up for the other team to attack through.

Going hand in hand with better discipline was that the midfielders did a much better job today getting back on defense.

Previously, midfielders were either not getting back at all, leaving the defense and goalkeeper to dry on breakaways, or they were getting back late and forcing poor challenges, which led to fouls, free kicks, and red cards.

Now the U.S. has pulled off the improbable. Sure they got a little lucky, with major help from Brazil, but they did their job. The Americans seized the moment and played a very good game.

Each player was productive on the field today.

Guzan made some beautiful saves; Jay DeMerit stepped up big again filling in for Carlos Bocanegra; Jonathan Bornstein and Jonathan Spector continued to play well as outside fullbacks; and Ricardo Clark may have learned from his mistakes as he did not commit any reckless challenges.

Clint Dempsey looked to be the lone U.S. player to struggle and not contribute much, but he became the hero when he headed home the third goal of the match in the 71 minute, the goal that put the Yanks in the semis.

The most important thing to take away from today's match was the heart the team showed and played with today.

The team played with a sense of urgency. They attacked with purpose and defended tenaciously. They came out today to play with pride and wound up completing an unbelievable turnaround to escape group play.

It is not time to forget about the horrific play in the previous games of the tournament as well as less than stellar efforts in recent World Cup qualifying.

It is not time to celebrate either, because Wednesday the U.S. will stand toe-to-toe with Spain, the number one ranked team in the world.

However, the players need to remember this feeling. Remember how it felt to win today and to overcome such great lengths to get in the next round.

They need to remember they got this result by playing smart, disciplined, and with heart.

If they remember that, who knows what can happen against Spain.

As the Americans proved today, anything is possible.

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