Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Day After

As the hours passed after our stunning 2-0 victory over Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinal yesterday, pundits and fans alike began to debate just where this win ranks in the pantheon of important US victories. There's a whole thread at the New York Times Goal blog on the topic, using this column by George Vescey as a jumping off point.

It's impossible, really, to assess the importance of yesterday's game this close to it. Even if we win the final on Sunday (against whom I still don't know - rockin' the TiVo), it's not clear what that would mean. But I tend to think this is a pretty big deal for a few reasons.

First, while some folks slag off the Confed Cup since it's not the World Cup, it's no slouch. Remember that, with the exception of hosts South Africa, every team involved is a champion of something. Yeah, New Zealand isn't on the level of almost any of the horde of Euro teams that will qualify for the World Cup, but the same can't really be said for the other confederation champs. Also, while previous versions of this tournament sometimes attracted B teams, there's no denying that everybody brought their A team to this one.

Which leads to the second point, that the Spain team we beat yesterday was composed of their top guns, with the exception of Iniesta (who's injured). Those top guns played well, dominating play for long stretches, but couldn't get a breakthrough. And we beat them honestly, by two goals scored from the run of play. They weren't things of beauty, but nor were they the result of questionable penalty calls or anything like that. Even the Spaniards concede that.

With that being said, this win is nowhere near the upset that the 1-0 victory over England in the 1950 World Cup was. That US team was basically a pickup collection of amateurs, taking on a fully professional England team. Famously, when the result came in over the wires most newspapers wouldn't print it, figuring it must be wrong. That level of upset will never happen again for us (but against us, who knows?).

So, is this win more important than the 1950 one? It almost certainly will be. As great an upset story as the 1950 game is, it was our last hurrah internationally for nearly four decades. We basically wandered the soccer wilderness until Paul Caligiuri's goal against Trinidad & Tobago in 1989 put us into the 1990 World Cup in Italy. That win solidified our right to host in 1994, which led to the formation of MLS. We've been back in the World Cup ever since and become the leading team in our region.

Other candidates for most important win are wins in the 2002 World Cup against Portugal and Mexico, our 1998 Gold Cup win over Brazil, and our 1995 Copa America drubbing of Argentina, 3-0, in their own backyard. All worthy candidates. Like I said, it's hard to say which of those is most influential, or how yesterday's triumph will compare. We just don't know, which is why we keep watching the games, right?

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