U.S. soccer fans won’t soon forget this day, when Team USA defeated Spain 2-0 in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. Not bad for a team that opened the tournament with two losses, including an avert-your-eyes ugly 3-0 loss to Brazil that brought on sharp criticism from the usually reverent American soccer press, which in turn brought on some thin-skinned comments from players unused to that kind of scrutiny. The team needed extra help just getting through the group stages. The funny thing is, the Spaniards were probably jumping up and down at the prospect of playing against us instead of Italy in the knockout stages. Now we can say, ¿Cómo te gustamos ahora?
Is this the biggest victory in USA’s history, as some people are arguing? Well, let’s see: Spain is the No. 1-ranked team in the world, and it won last summer’s European Championships in convincing fashion. They had won their previous 15 games and hadn’t lost in their last 35, going back to a game against Romania in November 2006. They’re odds-on favorite to win next summer’s World Cup. They fielded a full-strength squad featuring some of the sport’s most creative playmakers and deadliest finishers. Yet they couldn’t break down a bloody-minded USA squad. The goals came from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, but the real star of this match was USA’s defense, especially goalkeeper Tim Howard and central defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit. Onyewu’s looking for a new team during this off-season, and he probably raised his profile with this performance.
In the end, this win won’t carry the historical significance of USA’s wins in World Cup 2002 over Portugal and Mexico. But neither of those teams was as dominant as Spain is right now. Prior to 2002, USA’s soccer team didn’t get any respect. Since then, the sport’s global powers like Argentina, England, and Germany have come to respect us, but we never had a game capable of striking fear into their hearts. All that has changed now. Today, soccer fans around the world will look at that scoreline and gasp. When we make the World Cup tournament next year, whichever teams are drawn in our group are going to remember this result. Now USA has to prepare for a final match that will pit them against either the Brazil team that humiliated them a week ago, or a South African team with home-field advantage and fans going out of their minds. Whatever happens in that game, USA has now gained new attention from everyone else in the crowded world of soccer. For American footie fans, this is a moment to savor.
By the way, if you want to see the game, it’s re-airing tonight at 10pm on ESPN Classic. For our Spanish readers, here’s an article from La Marca describing the Americans as “fighting as if they were playing American football.”