US Men's National Team Has Changed Before Our Eyes

Joe GSenior Writer IJune 29, 2009

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 28:  Clint Dempsey of USA poses with the adidas Bronze Ball trophy at the end of the FIFA Confederations Cup Final match between USA and Brazil at Ellis Park Stadium on June 28, 2009 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

232 minutes.

That's how long the United States Men's National team was on top of the world.

232 minutes passed between Charlie Davies' opening goal in the match against Egypt, and Luis Fabiano's goal that equalized the score in the Confederations Cup final.

I spent last Sunday with my family celebrating Father's Day. In the middle of the afternoon, my phone buzzed to tell me that something had happened in the match between US and Egypt.

Fearing the worst, I went to the ESPN Mobile site and was greeted by fantastic news.

The US had taken a 1-0 lead over the African champions. More importantly, there was a slight glimmer of hope. The US had a slim chance to erase the disappointment of their first two Confederations Cup matches.

Team USA would go on to enjoy a now-famous 3-0 victory over Egypt which, coupled with Brazil's thrashing of Italy, meant that the US would advance to the semifinals of the Confederations Cup.

Thanks to the most unlikely of scenarios, the US had been given a second chance. They made the most of the new dawn by upsetting Spain and taking a very talented Brazil squad down to the wire in a rematch of the 3-0 drubbing handed down by the Selecao during the group stages.

What happened between the final whistle in the first Brazil match and the opening kick of the Egypt match? What spurred the US to reach heights that they have never seen before?

Perhaps they recovered from a serious case of jet lag just before facing Egypt. Perhaps Bob Bradley finally stumbled upon a winning combination of 11 players. Heck, perhaps the team read some of their own press clippings and got a little pissed off.

Whatever the reason, the US found some previously hidden gear and ramped up the quality of their play.

Now that they've shown the world what they're capable of, heightened expectations are sure to follow.

Some folks might not realize it, but we've witnessed this ragtag group of athletes from a supposedly second-class footballing nation grow up right before our eyes during these past couple of weeks.

Clint Dempsey went from being criticized for poor form in a US shirt to scoring crucial goals against Egypt, Spain and Brazil.

Jozy Altidore went from a 19-year old who couldn't get off the bench at a second division Spanish club to scoring the game winner against the European champs.

The US defense went from surrendering goals in the early minutes of matches to shutting down the best midfield in the world for 90 minutes.

Tim Howard will find himself catapulted into discussions about the best keepers in the world thanks to his incredible performances.

Landon Donovan went from being criticized as a man who couldn't cut it against the world's best to playing a key role in every match for the US. His attitude more than anything else personifies the growth of this team.

Bob Bradley went from making questionable decisions and standing by out of form footballers to finding a lineup that clicks beautifully, and sticking with it.

The look on Clint Dempsey's face tells the whole story. Not that long ago, a US player would have been thrilled to take home Bronze Ball honors in a tournament that featured Cesc Fabregas, Xavi, Kaka, Robinho, Iker Casillas, David Villa, Fernando Torres, Andrea Pirlo and a laundry list of other established superstars.

All Dempsey could think about was how close the US had been to glory and how they had let it slip away, mere minutes from a title. The tears streaming down his face showed fans everywhere that the US' small taste of success had given them an insatiable appetite for more.

In this tournament, the US hung with Italy for the better part of 60 minutes, dominated the African champions wire-to-wire, shut out the top-ranked team in the world, and was less than 45 minutes away from toppling the legendary Brazil for their first ever title in a FIFA tournament.

The Confederations Cup saw several firsts for the US. This was the first time that they had made the finals of a FIFA tournament. The rematch with Brazil was the first time that the US had ever held a 2-0 lead against the Samba Kings. And, this was the first tournament where the US had actually lived up to high expectations.

In the coming months, the US can add a huge one to this list of firsts. They have a chance to record their first ever win at the Azteca Stadium, home of their most hated rivals.

For the first time ever, the US should be legitimate favorites to win in Mexico City. But, only a win will keep these good vibes going.

Landon Donovan said it best in the immediate aftermath of the Brazil comeback.

"We're at the point where we don't want respect, we want to win."