Stunning is the word, I think, for the USA's rebirth at the Confederations Cup. Did I think the USA could beat Egypt? Maybe, but certainly not by 3-0.
Until yesterday, the USA had not impressed on the field, and had presented a decidedly sour image off it, with all that whining about referees and red cards. Even so, losing to Brazil and Italy is not exactly a disaster. But Egypt was, surely, always going to be an easier opponent, so why not concentrate on that?
Which is what Coach Bob Bradley's team did -- with this huge extra positive going for them: this was a game that they not only needed to win, but they needed to score three goals. In other words, the tactics were greatly simplified. Keep going forward, keep the pressure on Egypt. Get those goals!
The straightforward lust for goals is something new for this team, a Bob Bradley team. The usual caution had to be abandoned, and many a risk had to be taken.
But the outcome of this determination to play with sheer abandonment was not only the three vital goals and a place in the semifinal (yes, yes, Brazil did its bit by beating Italy 3-0, but that is irrelevant to the USA's performance), it was also as satisfying a game as I have seen any U.S. team play for years -- maybe since that 3-2 win over Portugal in the 2002 World Cup. Not the prettiest game, of course, but it had its moments.
Bob Bradley did his bit by bringing in Charlie Davies, a move that left one wondering why he hadn't been on the field much earlier in the tournament. A hustling game from Davies, sure -- but much, much more than that. A forward who looks like, moves like, and plays like a genuine modern forward. Strong, but not big, quick as lightning ... but when it matters, not sheer speed wasted by pointless running, and most encouraging of all, a player who shows promise of being the up-front quick-witted, quick-moving partner that Landon Donovan has been lacking for years.
Davies' goal showed another quality -- persistence. Persistence with skill. Yes, he probably was lucky that the referee didn't call -- at some point -- a foul on the Egyptian goalkeeper, referees usually do make that sort of call. I prefer them not to -- so I'm fine with this goal.
Egypt was looking ragged ... and slow. Made to look that way by the USA? In part, certainly. Egypt was also careless as the USA built up its second, superb, goal. I'll describe it the way I saw it (on ESPN, yet again, John Harkes was talking about something else as the goal excitingly blossomed). For once, goalkeeper Brad Guzan rolls the ball out, instead of whacking it any old where down the field. The USA retains possession. Clark heads to Donovan just in his own half of the field -- and then it's all along the ground, as it should. A quick ball from Donovan to Michael Bradley, a surging run from Bradley until he's about 25 yards from the Egyptian goal -- then the ball goes left, to Donovan, who has accompanied Bradley's run, about eight yards away from him. Donovan takes the ball into the area and then gives a superb return pass, pulled back for Bradley, unmarked near the penalty spot. His finish is masterly, the ball not smashed hard, but directed solidly with the inside of the right foot, along the ground, just inside the post. A wonderful goal -- the sort you can watch again and again with great pleasure.
Oh -- there was some luck here, too. Because both Clint Dempsey and Davies were offside when Bradley shot -- with Dempsey right in front of the goalkeeper. Surprisingly, there was no flag on the play, so we got to enjoy a lovely sequence of soccer ... with an end product.
By the time Dempsey emphatically headed in Jonathan Spector's cross, Egypt was a well beaten team -- beaten by a USA team that did what so few teams are willing to do these days -- applied constant and adventurous -- risk-taking, if you like -- attacking pressure. The English club Tottenham Hostspur does, theoretically, know about this sort of thing -- its motto is a Latin one (no, I don't know why it's in Latin): Audere est facere -- to dare is to do.
Of course, that is not Bob Bradley's normal style (to be fair, it's not the style of the vast majority of coaches), and I doubt anything so foolhardy will be repeated in the game against Spain -- obviously a much more skillful and a much cannier team than Egypt. For a start, it has much better defenders, plus two of the world's best goalscorers, and the world's best midfielder.
So who would not be cautious? Especially as the American defense is a shaky group -- it came through the Egypt game nicely because it was virtually untested.
But one can hope. The game presents itself as a nothing-to-lose moment. How can it be bad to be beaten by the world's best team, right now on a world-record 35-game unbeaten streak?
Well, it can't. But it wouldn't be good to get clobbered , so there will be caution. Hopefully, nothing as blankly negative as what Bora Milutinovic's Iraq gave us in losing only 0-1 to the Spanish. But the better lesson to learn from that game is not the respectable scoreline, but that Bora's clever tactics finessed his team straight out of the tournament. The USA, using the much simpler tactic of relentlessly pursuing goals, is still alive.