With the criticism mounting among U.S. soccer circles and the U.S. staring a winless trip in South Africa in the face, the U.S. Men's National Team responded by thrashing Egypt 3-0 by playing with heart and passion.
Oh, and the U.S. also happened to advance to the semifinals.
What a difference a game makes.
For those of you who have been living in a cave the past couple of weeks, here's a recap demonstrating the significance of this victory today.
The U.S. has been playing poorly as of late in both this tournament and World Cup qualifying, leaking early goals, playing undisciplined soccer (red cards in last two games vs. Brazil and Italy), and, above all, looking dispirited and without purpose on the field.
Consider the following:
A loss to Costa Rica in San Jose, having to come back from an early goal against Honduras in Chicago, hanging with Italy until the red card and the subsequent "in your face" supplied by New Jersey-born Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi in losing to Italy, and a drubbing from Brazil—where the players barely showed up and Bob Bradley's tactics, lineups, and formation began to face increasing scrutiny.
For a country that apparently did not care about the world's sport, Bradley, his players, and the U.S. Soccer Federation were beginning to feel the heat from fans and the media.
Go to any soccer blog, and you will find calls for Bradley's and Sunil Gulati's heads. Facebook users created online petitions and even started a "Fire Bob Bradley" group page. (There are currently 1,500 members of that group.)
Emails and phone calls began flooding into the USSF and Sunil Gulati.
In short, people wanted to see an improvement on the field, and soon.
And, the U.S. team responded by delivering one of its most memorable performances in recent memory, taking apart the upstart Egyptians with passion, heart, and providing a complete reversal to both how this team has performed recently and an answer to the critics.
Both teams came out on even terms, feeling each other out, but it soon became apparent that the U.S. was not going to just roll over to the Egyptians. Some early changes and combination play eventually led to the U.S. taking a 1-0 lead on a Charlie Davies goal.
This goal was significant for several reasons.
First, Bob Bradley had the hutzpah to start Davies up top with Jozy Altidore in the first place.
Second, the U.S. scored first and did not allow an early goal to the opposition, as they have been prone to do as of late.
Third, the U.S. scored in the run of play. Many fans have been bemoaning the fact that a majority of the U.S. goals have been on set pieces.
As the first half ended, you had to wonder if the U.S. should have been up 2-0 on an obvious handball by the Egyptians on a great shot by Jozy Altidore on frame, but the referee claimed he did not see it.
Given the way the U.S. has been playing, you would expect them to lie down and find a way to lose in the second half.
But they didn't.
They scored again on a great give and go-between Landon Donovan, Bradley, and then Dempsey scored on a header after a wonderful pinpoint cross from Jonathan Spector.
I don't think anyone would have expected this—the U.S. completely reversing its fortunes with one game, one spectacular performance that would silence the critics, regain some much-needed swagger, and put the program back on track.
It was just a perfect day.
How else can you explain the U.S. winning by a three-goal margin and Brazil doing the same to assure the Americans' passage into the semifinals on Wednesday.
Maybe magical is a better word.
Given the recent hard times that the coach, players, and federation have been through, they were all due for some good luck.
Other than the reversal of fortune the team found today, the emotion and passion that had been missing in large part over these few weeks and months returned with a vigor against Egypt.
The players played hard.
They played for each other.
They seemed to believe again.
You only had to witness the celebrations after each goal to see how important it was for the team psyche.
Clint Dempsey, who hasn't scored in seven games for the team, let out his frustration with a passionate header and celebration.
Bob Bradley, usually as stoic as a statue, pumped his fists and screamed expletives in both celebration and in argument for the non-call on the Egyptian handball.
His son, Michael Bradley, gave his father a great Father's Day gift with his performance and goal. He knew dad had been under increasing fire and addressed it after the match:
"We played with 11 guys for 90 minutes," Michael Bradley said.
"All the f------ experts in America, everybody who thinks they know about soccer, they can all look at the score tonight, and let's see what they have to say now. Nobody has any respect for what we do, for what goes on on the inside, so let them all talk now."
Who cares how the U.S. does against Spain on Wednesday?
No one thought the team would be in this position, anticipated how perceptions would change, and how criticisms would be silenced with one game.
The ship is righted in U.S. Soccer, for now, and the pressure just lessened a great deal for Bob Bradley and Co.
The improbable can and did happen today, and it was nice that Lady Luck shined on the U.S.
The USSF, Bradley, the players, and yes, the fans can all breathe a collective sigh of relief...for now.