Confederations Cup: US Defense Force Key to Victory Against Spain

Eric BradleyCorrespondent IJune 25, 2009

BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 24:  Jozy Altidore of USA beats the challenge of Carles Puyol of Spain to score a goal  during the FIFA Confederations Cup Semi Final match between Spain and USA at Free State Stadium on June 24, 2009 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Altidore and Dempsey are rightfully receiving accolades for their performance in the amazing victory against Spain.

But it was the efforts of the defenders, and Oguchi Onyewu in particular, that provided the cement on which the foundation of victory was built.  These men, too, should get their due.

Following the precedent established by Russia in the Euro 2008 semifinal, the US team made a concentrated effort to frustrate the usual Spanish tactics of running the ball up the middle for a connection with Villa, Xavi, or Torres.

While the execution of the strategy was not quite as perfect as the Russian example (Spain managed to send off 29 shots in this match, with eight on target), the Americans still played a better game simply because they remembered that they were supposed to be trying to get the ball themselves and not just block the Spaniards.

They also had the situational awareness to realize that they were the American team and not Brazil, so the passing between American players was crisp and efficient (rather than elegant and showy), and in fact quite similar to the style of play that the Turkish team had employed during Euro 2008.

So maybe the "surprise strategy" that Bob Bradley had hinted at before the game was actually a hybrid between the Russian and Turkish playing styles that had propelled those two underdog teams so much further than anyone expected in the European Championship.

On the rare occasions when the Spaniards managed to break through the defensive line, Onyewu somehow managed to put himself in the perfect position to intercept the ball and clear it from the danger zone.  I swear, the man must be able to teleport.

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About midway through the first half, the Spanish rallied and were looking dangerous.  But they just could not sustain the momentum and whatever short-lived morale boost they had was quickly broken down when just a couple of minutes later Jozy Altidore hammered through the first goal for the Americans.

This was the real turning point of the match, as Spain never fully recovered from the sudden shock of seeing the ball hit the back of their net.  Sure, they managed to look dangerous on a few occasions during the remainder of the match, but the shots were always off target, cleared (by you know who) or saved by Tim Howard.

Howard wasn't getting a lot of opportunity to exercise during the later stages of the game, and I'm sure there must have been a few occasions when he would have even forgotten what the ball looked like, but when the time came to step up and do his job he did that more than adequately.

That was especially true just after the start of the second half when Villa was able to get clear of his minders and fire off the most lethal looking shot to have come from the Spanish team during this match.  Howard managed to launch himself in what looked an impossible distance and pulled off a fingertip deflection that even Buffon would have been impressed by.

Meanwhile at the other end of the ground, the American team had clearly taken the initiative, as the Spanish were either demoralized or simply worn down.  This was the start of the real attacking phase for the Americans and it was relentless.

The pay-off came in the 74th minute when Donovan booted yet another of those crisp, clinical passes to find Dempsey in just the right place to put the ball into the net.

That effectively was the true end of the match, as the only other event of real significance that followed was the red card awarded to Michael Bradley when there were only a handful of minutes left in the game. 

That was an odd call to go straight for the red, but effectively it made the victory even sweeter for the Americans.   Not only did the USA beat the so-called "best team in the world", but they did it with one man off the field in the last seven minutes.

While obviously congratulations are in order for Dempsey for winning the Man of the Match award, I can't help but feel that Onyewu was more deserving of the title on this occasion.