Lust for Goals Propels USA Into Semifinals

By Paul Gardner

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.


8 comments about "Lust for Goals Propels USA Into Semifinals".
  1. Andy Wagner, June 22, 2009 at 8:33 a.m.

    I am tired of hearing how everything is now fine in USA soccer land. Everybody was throwing daggers after the first two games and was finally realizing that camp USA needs an overhaul. All of a sudden, with a win over Egypt, everything is on schedule again. We need to wake up! What I witnessed on Sunday was a typical African team withering down the stretch. In the past, the African teams would wither in the second half of games. Now, they wither at the end of tournaments. Their style is that of athleticism which cannot be sustained over the long haul. The US is historically a gut it out team that can often times overcome sides that have this problem.

    The US did not believe they could accomplish the task of moving on and looked unmotivated and playing through the motions. It wasn't until that second goal went in until they started to believe. Lastly, this country will not make any marks in the soccer world until they beef up their schedule. All is happy now, that is, until the Spain debacle in a few days. That bewilderment that I saw in the US faces after the Egypt game won't be there after Spain!

  2. Kent James, June 22, 2009 at 9:07 a.m.

    While the first two performances in the Confederations Cup were dismal, being down a man for a combined 90 minutes against two of the top teams in the world did have something to do with that. What was nice about Sunday was that the team played with confidence, which makes all the difference. The US was relentless on defense (all over the field) and quickly went on the attack, moving the ball quickly. Although it will be very risky against a team with Spain's quality, I'd like to see the US attack just as aggressively against Spain, instead of playing back on their heels and simply trying to slow Spain down. I think doing so (unless they give up an early goal) would allow them to play with more confidence, and improve the quality of their performance. While Dempsey's goal makes Bradley look like a genius, I'd rather see Torres in midfield than Dempsey; Dempsey just has not put out much effort in the last few games (and perhaps had someone else been in there for the previous 2, we wouldn't have needed 3 goals against Egypt). Feilhaber and even (perhaps) Adu should be given opportunities. We'll need all the quickness and skill we have against Spain.

  3. Austin Gomez, June 22, 2009 at 9:47 a.m.

    Since it is apparently manifest, Paul, that you love to be a Classicist at-heart (with your excessive load of Latin curriculum packed into your pharmacist-tye English education), let's give the sterling performance of the USA National Team a rousing Latin ovation, with its Vergilian text: MIRABILE VISU! (Marvelous To See!). Yes, it would be 'marvelous to see' the USA fight with audacity (AUDERE) & boldness (FORTES) with its concomitant "risk-taking" (AUDERE est FACERE) aura every game it pursues, (by the way, this same approach must be obtained in this oncoming Wednesday match with current Euro-Champion, Spain) with its offensive-type flair & defensive-type abandonment, so that we Latin-minded Classicists & steadfast USA Football Supporters can also utter another appropriate Latin phrase after our jubilant conquering of the "La Furia Roja" this Wednesday: "VICTORIBUS, PRAEDA": To the Victors, the Spoils! That would be utterly "Marvelous To Speak" (MIRABILE DICTU).

    Paul, please excuse my excessively passionate love of the Latin supines
    along with my ardent allurement of the 'compound-complex' sentence-type verbage!

    !Vivan el equipo seleccion y nacional US.A.!


  4. Trudy Wells, June 22, 2009 at 9:51 a.m.

    "The real joys in life lie in the hope of tomorrows. . . ."
    Go USA!
    Soccer rules!
    Trudy Wells [Swiss born]

  5. Barry Ulrich, June 22, 2009 at 10:42 a.m.

    "...goalkeeper Brad Guzan rolls the ball out, instead of whacking it any old where down the field." I'd like to ask Bob Bradley why he doesn't require his GKs to make more use of his fullbacks? Nearly invariably the ball wacked down the field is headed back by the opposition and the US is again back on defense. The long kick down field should be used sparingly as a surprise tactic, not the boring part of putting the ball back into play. The throw in is intended to go to a teammate, so should GKs.

    Also, why is the US usually defending at the end of it's games? When I coached, I wanted my teams on offense controlling/holding the ball at the end of the game. Pretty hard for the opponent to do anything if they don't have the ball!

  6. Joseph Breault, June 22, 2009 at 11:50 a.m.

    The play of Davis was observations are that there are many players, good players, in this country that are never selected and developed due to the atrocious system of developement we currently have from National team down to the youth teams. We will never grow as a football nation without attention to developing our youth players. We need a system similar to that of the FA and other foreign nations that is grassroots and provides young players a challenging system of growth. I am happy for the miracle in Africa and a chance to watch Spain.

  7. Gus Keri, June 22, 2009 at 1:33 p.m.

    I am afraid that history will repeat itself, again.

    I remember the euphoria that followed the 3-2 win over Purtogal in WC 2002. In the following years, the USA suffered from unreasonably high expectations. Since then, they have faultered in every international tournaments they played in, except the gold cup (which has nothing golden about it).

    I am afraid that the same things will happen after this result.

    I still believe that the USA is still way behind the top teams in the world and this result didn't change that. I will change my mind when I see the top 20 US players playing regularly in the highest ranked European leagues.

  8. Rene Guerra, June 23, 2009 at 3:56 p.m.

    Let's keep the pressure on Bob Bradley; the goalkeeper whacking the ball routinely --and not as a tactical surprise-- is the most stupid way of losing possession of the ball and, worse, facilitating an immediate attack by the opponent. Rolling the ball out is the name of the game.

    Furthermore, when passing the ball, the routine should be passes below the knee (daisy-cutters, if possible), crispy, precise, and properly strong. Any pass above the knee is much more difficult to trap, and make something useful of it. Our players violate much too often this golden rule.

    Add to it that our players must be demanded to make use of switching. It matters not how crowded with opponent players the area may be, it matters not that there may be one or more players of their team open: our players will adamantly, almost obsessively, persist on trying to, futilely, keep playing the ball through impenetrable walls of opponents --and then losing it, logically-- rather than making a switch. Switching is one of the best tactical weapons in soccer; our players should be taught and demanded to use it.

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