Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Under 20 World Cup: Welcome To Bizarro World

I know this is late, but still worth talking about:

United States 2-1 Brasil

All the highlights of an incredible match
Aside: Hey ESPN, why don't you move that scoreboard bar down a bit? It isn't quite blocking enough of the screen; you might be able to make it even more annoying if you put in a little effort...

Before the tournament Brasil were one of the 3 favorites, with Argentina and Mexcio, to win the whole thing. Then they were shocked 1-0 by Poland, who the US then went on to demolish 6-1 in an amazing display of footy. Even still, the US were certainly underdogs to Brasil on Friday evening in their final group match. It's freaking Brasil, and no US mens national team had ever beaten a Brasil mens national team in any tournament competition at any level before.

US went out to a 1-0 lead and were playing with confidence rather than awe or fear against Brasil. They created as many chances to score a 2nd as Brasil did to equalize. The whole thing was exciting enough on it's own, but with the other final group stage match between Poland-South Korea going on concurrently, it was even more so, as qualification hung in the balance for both teams, but especially Brasil. Eventually Brasil did tie it up in the 70th minute on as crappy a goal as you will ever see. Up until that point I was really impressed with the US team, and when this happened I said to myself "now we'll really see what this team is made of". Brasil {and eveyone else in the world} were thinking "we're fucking Brasil, we are going to get a winner or worst case scenario we'll finish level, but there's no way this American team is taking this punch and coming back to knock us out."

But damn if that isn't exactly what happened, when Altidore finished off a move that started when Freddy Adu was literally cornered by 2 dudes and did some complete circus shit to leave those two in the dust and put in a cross. An amazing move, a deflection, a nice finish by the big man, and 2-1 to the US, who then held on for a second famous win in as many matches, and damn near knocking Brasil out of the tournament in the process {I don't think Brasil have ever failed to get out of the group stages in the U20 World Cup before}. In the end the results in the other groups allowed Brasil to slide into the round of 16 via the backdoor as one of the 4 best 3rd place teams.

So the US won their group with 2 wins and a draw, and find themselves pitted against Uruguay in the round of 16. They also got a pretty good draw, with favorites Argentina & Mexico on the other side of the draw, meaning they wouldn't see them until the final, and Brasil on the bottom of their side, meaning they wouldn't see them until the semifinals. First things first, though- round of 16 against Uruguay on Wednesday evening.

Your quarterfinal matchups are:

United States-Uruguay
Japan-Czech Republic


I have to admit I am crushing on this US team, and it is the first time for me that I have really gotten behind a US mens soccer team at any level. My attitude towards US Soccer had always mirrored my attitude towards US automobiles- I can't bring myself to cheer fervently for/purchase one just because they are American and I am American, mainly because they are a shittier product than those available in other countries.

This is the first time I have seen a US team playing with confidence and bravado like they really belonged with the biggest of big boys. As much as the US has improved, by and large they have become a team that is confident against CONCACAF teams but not so much against the big boys. And I'm not just talking about results, more about attitude and how they played. Even when they US shocked Portugal 3-2 in the 2002 World Cup and went on a run all they way to the quarterfinal, they were an underdog cinderella team {on par with, say, George Mason in the 2006 NCAA tournament}, and even they knew it.

This team seems different, they are playing with confidence and even dare I say, a swagger. It's not the typical US underdog "shit, let's just try to contain them, and maybe we'll get some luck on the offensive end and pull off a shocker." It's more like "fuck that. We're don't give a damn who you are; we're playing you even, and we're going to play with panache, style, we're going to attack you, we are not timid or afraid, and we can play with and beat you no matter who you are". This is hard to explain, but it shows in their attitude, body language, the way they play, their style of play, their projected confidence, etc. And they're doing the business. For these reasons I am watching their matches as more than a neutral observer; I am pulling hard for them to win, which has never really been the case in the past because for the most part US teams have always been inferior not only in talent but in style of play.

Anyhow, enough about me, that's not the point. The point is that this young team is legit, and they have shown that they have as good a chance as any to make it to the final and perhaps even win this thing. More importantly, it means that the future of US Soccer is bright, and that the leadup to World Cup 2010 will be exciting as the better members of this group {Adu, Altidore, Zizzo, etc} slot in with the senior national team.

I'll be hoping that ESPN chooses to show the round of 16 match against Uruguay tomorrow night so I can watch them again. Friday they pre-empted showing a replay of a hot dog eating contest; hopefully they will do the same with the planned replay of the home run derby.


1955gator said...

This is a great blog. Agree with you on the assessment of the US under20's.
Adu was very impressive with his aggressive play and he actually got in the face of the Brazilians several times. It was the first time in over 20 years of watching US soccer that I saw another international team react to a US team.
Some of the Brazilian players were trash talking Adu and knew they were in a battle. This is a great start. There may be a future for US soccer after all.

Robert said...

Could Altidore be the answer to the US's problems at finishing?