Thursday, June 24, 2010

2010 FIFA World Cup: United States Advances Thanks to Key Characteristics

AP Photos/Michael Sohn

The United States Men’s Soccer Team needed a win in their final group play match against Algeria. A victory would push the team into the World Cup’s Round of 16. As the game started and England took a 1-0 lead over Slovenia in the other Group C game it became apparent that a tie would not do and a loss would doom the Yanks.

The team attacked aggressively the entire match but failed to connect on nearly every opportunity. Once the U.S. thought they took the lead on a Clint Dempsey shot on the back post but the assistant referee incorrectly ruled him offsides.

Stoppage time came and the outlook for the United States was not so rosy. It looked like the team would not lose a game the entire tournament but would not be rewarded.

However in stoppage time, with the United States urgency to score at a historic high, the team was finally able to pull through and scored a goal.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard made a routine save, but as soon as he looked up he saw Landon Donovan streaking down the right side of the field. He flung the ball nearly to midfield, putting the ball almost magically onto Landon Donovan’s feet without breaking stride.

Donovan surged up the field leading a four-on-two fast break. He passed the ball ahead to his right where Jozy Altidore was running. Altidore collected the pass and with a defender latching onto him and slotted the ball to the middle for a streaking Dempsey.

Dempsey got a foot on it, keeping the ball low, but Algerian goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi came out and blocked the shot. As Dempsey toppled over M’Bolhi, Donovan came in trailing the play and put the rebound in the back of the net, subsequently going to the corner flag where he was mobbed by the entire U.S. team.

The goal not only pushed the United States into the knockout stage but also helped them win Group C, the first time the country won its group since the inaugural tournament in 1930.

The goal also was a perfect example of the team’s key attributes: teamwork, resiliency, and patience.

American players are not known for their individual technical skill. They are able to be successful and pull off victories like the one against Spain in the Confederations Cup because they play as a team. As the saying goes, “the sum is greater than its parts.”

The ball movement leading up to the goal was great. Four Americans touched the ball on the play. The pass from Howard to Donovan took a tremendous amount of chemistry between the two players, for Howard to know Donovan would be in that position.

“Landon kind of knows me a little bit," Howard said to reporters. "He breaks out when I get the ball and it's kind of easy to find him.”

The players charged down the field as a unit and attacked the Algerian defense together. When Dempsey’s shot failed, his teammate, Donovan, was there to back him up and finish off what he started. It was good teamwork.

Along with good teamwork the Americans are well-known for, especially lately, having strong mental toughness and forging forward no matter the circumstances.

The Americans should have beaten Slovenia, but Maurice Edu’s game-winner was disallowed on an awful call. Dempsey’s goal was disallowed on a bad call and they couldn’t connect on their other chances. Things didn’t always go the U.S.’ way and critics were rounding up like vultures waiting to condemn soccer once more. But the American team is filled with fighters, guys who won’t give up.

Dempsey himself could’ve given up after his non-call and the stroke of bad luck in the beginning of the second half when his shot hit the post and his rebound attempt soared high and wide. Yet he kept plugging away, kept taking chances, and there he was in stoppage time trying to give the Americans the lead. And although once again he was unlucky, he stuck with it, got in the keeper’s way, and created space for Donovan to net the winner.

That kind of attitude and play is a style casual American sports fans can get behind and support.

Finally there is the virtue of patience.

It isn’t necessarily always a strength of the United States but it is essential for all winning soccer teams.

The sport is one that, unlike others, rewards patience. Things may not always go your way. Bad calls, missed chances, and great defensive efforts to deny you happen. But if you maintain composure, keep your organization, and keep playing your game—all aspects of patience—then all it takes is one moment; either a dazzling display of ball movement or a stroke of magnificent luck (Dempsey’s shot on Robert Green) can finally result in a goal.

The U.S. played with urgency knowing it needed to win, but was patient and good things came to them.

Now they will face off against Group D runner-up Ghana, the team that eliminated the United States in the 2006 World Cup.

It’s time to return the favor with another sports theme: redemption.

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