To borrow a line from the NBA, the U.S. team in South Africa showed that “Amazing Happened” with its stirring victory over the number one team in the world, Spain.
The U.S. achieved the biggest win against a European opponent outside of the U.S. since the World Cup in 2002. They’ve probably never beaten a team that was so talented, where the gap in talent and technical skill seemed so large.
But what does this mean for the U.S. team and for the sport more broadly in the U.S.?
For one, it solidified this group as a team and it answered several questions about the character and quality of this team.
The U.S. proved the team and coach, as it currently stands, can play with anyone in the world and win. This statement was in doubt after the 2006 World Cup, when the team crashed out in three games during the group stage.
We also know more about the makeup of this team and a bit more about its identity—defense, grit, determination. Tactics aside, if the team comes out motivated, physical and aggressive, they have a chance of beating anyone on a given day.
Personnel-wise, this team has gelled with the individuals that were out there yesterday. Jay DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu will likely remain at the centerback positions given their stellar work together, and Carlos Bocanegra the starter at left back. Jonathan Spector will either be the first choice or a backup to Steve Cherundolo on the right.
In the middle of the park, Michael Bradley is the two-way central midfielder, while Rico Clark and Maurice Edu will battle with Jermaine Jones for the defensive mid/destroyer position.
Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey have proven their mettle and raised their statuses with solid performances in this tournament, particularly Donovan, and will be the starters at the wide midfield spots for the foreseeable future.
Up top, it will hard to supplant Jozy Altidore after yesterday’s game. It was interesting that he actually held up the ball, turned and shot to give the U.S. the win; he was criticized before for not being able to hold the ball. He seems to have a good working relationship with Charlie Davies, but Brian Ching, Conor Casey and Kenny Cooper will also get continued looks to pair up with the young Altidore.
This was the kind of win that reverberates and impacts the sport in many ways.
ESPN showed the game, and more fans will be paying attention to this team now after this win. The media will pay more attention. Young soccer players in the U.S. will be motivated by this victory.
In other countries, you could feel the level of respect for the U.S. rise after this game. We’ve always been a big country, but not when it came to football. Now, other countries will respect us more and know we can play with anyone.
This can only enhance our ability to play in higher profile friendlies, get more looks for our players in foreign leagues, maybe even improve the respectability of MLS. That’s how big this win was. It didn’t completely change the perception of Team U.S.A. overnight, but it did make the world stand up and take notice of us more. And that’s the start of something big in the U.S. program.
However, with big victories come bigger expectations. How will this team respond? Can we be more consistent and continue to improve?
Better yet, can we continue to beat top teams on a regular basis while also taking care of business in away CONCACAF games against the likes of Honduras and Mexico?
The team could take all it has learned as a lesson and continue to move forward, or it can regress and progress. It seems it is up to these players to take this experience to heart and internalize it to maintain its level of improvement.
We’ve been consistently inconsistent this year, but we may have the confidence and self-belief now to win on a regular basis. The guys and coaching staff know who they are better now, the trust has improved, and this team should be able to build on this victory.
On the face of it, it seems this team needs the pressure and criticism from fans and the media it received after the Brazil debacle in order to play with a purpose; a chip on its collective shoulder. I tend to agree with that, and fans and the media alike should continue to pour the pressure on.
We’re fans after all, and a sign that soccer is progressing in this country is the higher expectations and the increasing soccer knowledge of fans.
What is next for this team? A strong performance in this weekend’s final is necessary to maintain the progress.
Follow that up with a strong Gold Cup performance. Hope that some of the younger players in that tournament can push the veterans.
The next big test after this tournament and the Gold Cup is another first for this team—win at Azteca in Mexico on August 12th. The U.S. has a horrible record there, only mustering a tie and losing the rest of their matches historically in Mexico.
A win there would solidify confidence in this team and the direction of the program.
No longer can we use the word "impossible" with this team. Believing is enough to give fans hope for the future.
The victory has given this writer the belief in our team again, and the possibilities of a seed in the World Cup. A good draw there could raise the expectations beyond just reaching the knockout stages.
The U.S. has to continue to get results in tough environments and against difficult opponents to show this victory was no fluke. As they say, "you’re only as good as your next game", and more eager, watchful eyes will be checking the team out this Sunday against either Brazil or South Africa to gauge Team USA’s growth or regression.
It’s up to the team now to respond and progress or revert back to its inconsistent ways.
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