The United States today did more than defeat a strong Spanish squad — they outplayed and simply outclassed them. The game was dominated by the best United States soccer squad I’ve seen in years; they did more than avoid making major mistakes. Nearly perfect on defense, everyone (including their strikers) played their parts to ensure that the Spanish strikers had difficult or no clear chances. Having Carlos Bocanegra in the squad to anchor down the back four clearly led to increased organization that helped Keeper Tim Howard achieve a clean sheet against a potent Spanish side. Furthermore, Defender Oguchi Onyewu played a brilliant game, perhaps the best of his international career, and in my eyes deserves Man of the Match honors for his constant heroics in frustrating the Spanish attackers.
Our game in the midfield was strong, and while we were far from perfect in the attacking third of the pitch, missing some key connecting passes again a bit too slow on certain shots, we took the chances we got. Even though the second goal took a couple of friendly bounces before Clint Dempsey managed to tuck it away, we kept poking at it until it paid off. This was a scrappy US team that didn’t often give up on any reasonable chances.
This was not simply a case of Spain playing poorly; in fact, all credit in this game must go to a United States team that looked for the first time like it could be truly competitive on the world’s largest stage. I’ve never, ever felt comfortable saying that about the US until tonight.
Perhaps the only curiosity in this game was the Michael Bradley red card, which was shown because of a late challenge in the closing ten minutes of the game. Though the challenge was late, I don’t think his studs were dangerously up, and another ref could have well given an arguably more appropriate yellow card. The question is whether or not Bradley’s absence in the final, likely against Brasil, will make a game changing difference. Conventional wisdom says that Brasil are far too strong for it to matter. But if that were not true, it’s also important to note how much we need Bradley in our midfield. However, I think both of those things are now in question after tonight’s performance, in which we showed that our defensive organization and our uncharacteristically mature midfield composure can lead to chances and frustrate even the strongest of opponents.
Up front, the US attackers perhaps pose the largest concern against the winner of the Brasil/South Africa semifinal on Thursday. Perhaps our saving grace could be the cool head and amazing presence of Charlie Davies, whose performance today was groundbreaking, despite having no goals. His time is soon to come.
In this case of the Jekyll and Hyde of US Soccer, tonight’s team must show up to the final in order to be competitive. It could be a huge upset in this Confederations Cup. This team is good enough to beat anyone.