Sunday, June 28, 2009

some thoughts on the Confederations Cup, part one: Team USA

Wow! That was fun!

For those of you wondering what the heck is going on with this international-tournament-that-isn't-a-World Cup, the FIFA Confederations Cup is played every four years in the year before the World Cup, hosted by the same country that will host the following year's World Cup. Eight teams participate, generally the champions of their respective continents as well as the previous World Cup winner and the host country national team. It's a great trial run for the participating teams and for the host country. The tournament is not without controversy; it used to be held every two years, which was, as many argued, a bit much, given how many demands are made on top players as it is, and in 2005 FIFA wisely changed it to an every-four-years affair.

You'll also hear differing opinions as to its importance. My own view is that it's somewhere in the middle; I wouldn't call it a major tournament, necessarily, but neither is it a lot of meaningless friendlies as some might try to argue. It's definitely lower-key than the European Football Championships or the Copa América or--certainly--the World Cup, and for that very reason, I find it a lot of fun to watch without a lot of the angst and stress that accompany more significant championships.

So, without further ado, here are my thoughts on the teams from the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.

USA. Now you all know how I feel about the US Men's National Team--our checkered past, my brief flights of infatuation followed by a refusal to commit, my dissatisfaction with their style of play and attitude. But--but--but! This team did what no other US team has yet managed: they won my heart. Oh, I cursed the day they (rightfully) trounced a disarrayed Spain, but seeing them transform from the ineffectual squad that limped through matches against Italy (1-3) and Brazil (0-3) into the scrappy underdogs who clawed their possibly-undeserving way out of the group stages with a rather astounding win against Egypt (3-0) and then to organized and spirited finalists--well, now, that's a narrative to fall in love with! This US team has struggled in some regional World Cup qualifiers and at the start of this tournament I commented that I thought this was a poorer side than the US fielded in either 2002 or 2006. Today, I think that the US might actually make their most respectable showing yet at next year's World Cup.

Among the things the US needs to work on now is consistency, communication (let's work on those passes!), and a lighter defensive touch. They were sent off in three out of five matches and while one or more of those calls may have been questionable, the fact remains that factions in the US are overfond of the "professional foul," that tactical maneuver which says it's okay to cheat, potentially injure an opposing player, and sacrifice yourself in the interest of stopping a goal. Sorry, I call bullshit; I consider the professional foul the most egregious of footballing sins, far worse than the handball or the dive.

Having said that, I was particularly pleased with Jonathan Spector's defending and some really skillful tackles he made. A few years ago, I was at the Marathon in Portland watching an Arsenal v. West Ham match with my fellow apm-ers Lisa and Derek. I was a neutral, rooting for West Ham for my Hammers-supporting friends' sake. At one point, I commented that Spector was making some rough tackles. Two heads swivelled; drinks in hand, my comrades both snarled at me defensively "He's doing his job!" "Right," I whispered meekly, sinking back behind my pint of Guinness.

Other observations on the US team: I'm not yet convinced by the Jozy Altidore hype and I'm waiting for him to impress me. In the early stages, when the US was playing so poorly, I really wanted Bob Bradley to put in Freddy Adu and see what he could do--not because Adu's impressed me in recent memory, but because the squads Bradley was fielding in those early matches played in so astoundingly mediocre a fashion I figured hey, might as well give ex-wunderkind Freddy another shot at it. Now this Charlie Davies, on the other hand, had some fantastic plays and I'm looking forward to seeing more of him. Tim Howard, after a shaky start (was he really the right choice for the national team keeper, I found myself asking) just got better and better and absolutely deserved his Golden Glove.

Poor Clint Dempsey, and indeed the entire team, looked absolutely devastated following their 3-2 loss against Brazil in the final. And good for that--I want a team that plays with every single ounce of courage and heart and feels broken by anything less than a win. My love of Argentina and Spain, those players and that style of beautiful passing football, will always trump my support for the US team, but this was a great week for US soccer. Bob Bradley and his squad should be very proud of themselves indeed. The US team made history; let's do it again in 2010.

To be continued...

1 comment:

football gifts said...

USA football now seems to be reaching a new level, will be great to see them do well in the World Cup