By Paul Gardner
Bob Bradley is definitely the man of the hour here - but hold on, Bob - let the man you so soundly beat have the first say: "They had huge energy, were
very quick in attack, and caught us by surprise," - the words of Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque.
And frankly, pretty pathetic words they are. Not worthy of such a splendid coach. So
Spain was "caught by surprise," was it?
One thing that Bradley and his team have surely done is to bury that phrase - as applied to a game against the USA - for ever. When U.S. players
claim, petulantly, that they don't get enough respect, it is this sort of thing they are referring to.
But after this game, this scoreline, there surely cannot be a team or a coach in the
world who will dare to say again that they were "surprised" by the USA.
Least of all, I imagine, Brazil, the USA's likely opponent in the Confederations Cup final. What Bradley's team did
yesterday was to play the best game that I have ever seen any U.S. national team, at any level, play. For the record, that takes in nearly 50 years of experience at all age levels.
circumstances were, of course, somewhat special. The USA had nothing to lose, could play freely and adventurously. OK - but how many teams actually do
that when the chance comes along?
Bradley's USA did, and it was rewarded with one of the biggest wins in U.S. soccer history.
The measure of the USA's achievement is perhaps best approached by telling first of what they
. The negative things that, playing against the best team in the world (everyone agreed on that) they might be expected to do. Firstly, they did not adopt a defensive formation, they
play bunker-style as Bora Milutinovic's dreary Iraq had done (and had lost anyway). Secondly, they did not
adopt an intimidating, physical approach - for most of the game
they played well within the rules of the game. In a game in which they had to do a lot of defending and tackling, to commit only nine fouls is absolutely extraordinary. Thirdly, having scored the
vital first goal, they did not
abandon their open play - they continued to attack whenever they could.
Those three negatives add up to a massive tactical positive. I'm tempted
to say that the USA started this game exactly the way that they finished against Egypt - with an almost abandoned search for goals. But I think that would not be doing either Bradley or his players
This time there was - there had
to be against a team as dangerous as Spain - a strong tactical presence. Primarily it made its presence felt as positional discipline. The
Spanish midfield, so highly praised (including by me) was never allowed to take command of this game. Occasionally, it did - particularly in the second half - but even then the USA presented the
threat of a quick, intelligent counter. The attacking move that led to Clint Dempsey's goal saw four U.S. attackers closing in on the Spanish goalmouth, faced by four Spanish defenders.
But the 4-4-2 formation was there to be seen throughout the game. Landon Donovan's nomadic ubiquity tended to upset the geometry a bit, but never did he harm it. And maybe Charlie Davies was not
always up front with Jozy Altidore, but he arrived rapidly, almost at the same time as a pass to Altidore, and others were there almost as quickly. Never did I have the impression - so often given by
modern formations - that either Altidore, or Davies, was isolated, that either one was left to "battle all alone" up front.
There were two noticeable, recurring features, both immense
positives for the USA: the number of times that Spanish passes were intercepted in midfield, or that Spanish passes simply went astray. And, in the U.S. penalty area, the number of Spanish shots that
were blocked almost as soon as they were made. If goalkeeper Tim Howard had a pretty straightforward game, which he did, much of it was down to his defenders' ability to smother Fernando Torres and
David Villa before, or as, they pulled the trigger.
There was never any defensive mindset, everyone knew that one goal was unlikely to be enough, so the attacking brio
until Dempsey took advantage of Sergio Ramos' dreadful error.
But by then, a dreadful error by Spain did not seem an unthinkable occurrence. Already we had seen plenty of Spanish passes
going astray, sometimes going straight into touch, at others there were clear signs of recrimination among the Spanish players. The USA had utterly frustrated them, and had done it by playing good, if
not great, soccer.
A lovely lesson here, in soccer stats - for the USA was on the wrong end of all those that matter - less possession, many fewer shots on goals and corner kicks, and -
for those who see fouls as a measure of aggressiveness - fewer fouls. And the USA, with only two shots on goal, won the game 2-0.
A lesson, too, in tactics, or at least terminology. I
suppose we'll hear about players "who do the dirty work" (an idiotic phrase if ever there was one) - but where was the dirty work here? Everyone ran their heart out, everyone tackled or tried to do so
- and not many players fouled. Not much dirty about any of that.
Michael Bradley's red card, thoroughly deserved, was the only negative. So the USA will face Brazil without him - not such
a bad thing, for Coach Bradley relies far too heavily on his son's limited abilities. No doubt Michael will be replaced by the equally reliable but also equally limited Sasha Kljestan. Which would be
rather a shame, when young Jose Francisco Torres is patiently waiting on the bench.
And so to Brazil. I repeat: One thing we can be sure of - there will be no talk from coach Dunga -
either before or after the game - about "surprises" from the USA.
Bob Bradley with his minimal tactics and his refusal to play negatively - and his players with their continuous
commitment and willingness to exploit every attacking moment, have surely put a belated end to the phenomenon of people being "surprised" when the USA plays well.