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The Summer Ride of 2009

Frankie Hejduk ties it up in El Salvador (March 2009)
The USMNT has had its ups and downs just like any other national team around the world, but the confidence surrounding the group that has been left over going into September might be at an all time high even after a tough loss in Mexico. The summer months have seen new young stars emerge along with old faces showing their reliability, and I have seen it all. “It” started back in March with the team resuming its WC 2010 qualifying with an away match in the tough setting that is El Salvador. Let’s go along for the ride all over again…

  • March/April 2009: The Team Shows their Guts

On a night where El Salvador scored early (15′) and then added one late (72′), it seemed as though the USMNT was headed for a frustrating road loss in their return to qualifying. Down one after Altidore headed a Hejduk cross in, Frankie Hejduk himself posted up near the back post and headed in a deflected corner from the near post in the 88th minute. When that goal went in I almost completely lost it, and it was now only three days away from another qualifier against T&T in Nashville. Jose Altidore had a small coming out party with a hat-trick, and the Yanks showed their worth with a no BS 3-0 win.

  • June 2009: The Yanks Have Arrived

Three days into June and the USMNT were at it again in another unfriendly environment which was Estadio Saprissa in Costa Rica. Conceding early in the game once again, the US never found their form on a pitch equivalent to my driveway. Frustrating would be word to describe this game and the result, as nothing went the Yanks way all night. Three days later the boys played a home (but basically away) game against Honduras in Chicago. After going down early again (5th minute), it looked as a more competitive Honduras side could easily dismantle the US for an away win. But the boys got going towards the half, with Donavon converting a PK in the 43′ and Bocanegra heading home the winner in the 68th minute. A scrappy win, yes, but one that was desperately needed. Now all eyes shifted to the somewhat mysterious Confederations Cup, in which the USMNT had the delight of being grouped with Italy, Brazil, and Eygpt in a two group World Cup tune-up down in South Africa.

The US opened the Confederations Cup against Italy on Monday, June 15th. I convinced a couple of buddies to catch the game with me, which was the start of me brainwashing them into following the beautiful game (FIFA 09 helps, too). The Yanks played well, well enough to take the lead into the second half on a PK earned by Altidore’s pure physical strength. But the sleeping Azzuri awoke in the second half, as American-born Giuseppe Rossi blasted home the equalizer. All downhill from there, 3-1 to the Italians. Three days later Brazil pushed the boys aside for an easy 3-0 win. It seemed as though the USMNT had hit a new low. Many were calling Bob Bradley’s decisions a joke, and at the time I couldn’t disagree. It just seemed as though the US could not run with the big boys, no matter what the stage. I then wrote about how the US needed a six goal swing to get them into the semi’s, and how we should all give them our support because we have nothing to lose now. Well, karma was on my side, and the Yanks pulled off the impossible. Davies, Bradley, and Dempsey all tallied while Brazil magically beat Italy by three as well to send the Stars and Stripes into the semi’s on the Fathers Day Miracle. The boys played care-free attacking football that paid off. Next up was Spain; the run was fun while it lasted, right?

The Yanks started off the match against Spain with great pace, going toe to toe with the number one team in the world. 27 minutes in, Jose Altidore greeted the back of the net. Altidore gets control, turns, shoots, GOAL. The USMNT was leading Spain by one, but the real question was that how long will it hold? Five, maybe ten minutes? The US stood their ground for the rest of the game, blocking more shots than Shaq in his prime along with having the least amount of ball possession I’ve seen since my AYSO days. But it was the Yanks day, as Dempsey found the net on a Spanish defensive error, and it was the United States Men’s National Soccer team who ended Spain’s 35 game unbeaten streak.

My emotions of the Brazil game went in this chronological order: grudgingly optimistic (pre-game), excited (up 1), absolutely ecstatic (up 2), over-confident (halftime), quite optimistic (up 1), praying for penalties (tied), shockingly disappointed (down 1), pissed off (full time). After Donavon and Davies put on a counter-attack that resembled something out of a football textbook, I really thought we would be holding a trophy in 45 minutes time. But instead of standing our ground like we did against Spain, Bob Bradley went into turtle mode and made poor substitutions. Turtle mode allowed for Brazil to swing wide; and next thing I knew the game was over. So the US had just choked a 2-0 lead at halftime, their second time ever doing so in the span of one week, and to Brazil nonetheless. Everyone was saying don’t feel so bad, but I couldn’t help it. The boys had the animal that is Brazil by the neck, and because of poor coaching they were told to let up. Frustrating to say the least.

  • July 2009: The “B” Team

The 2009 Gold Cup quickly became an afterthought to the Confederations Cup when Bob Bradley and company rolled out, to be honest, the reserve USMNT squad to face CONCACAF’s best. Being away most of July, I did not catch a single one of the games, but I didn’t feel bad about it because of the players involved. Stuart Holden turned some heads, including mine, and I think he will be a fine player to start. I just felt as though the 2009 Cup didn’t really matter. The winner of the 2011 Cup will play in the Confederations Cup before Brazil, so that tournament should be a better one than this. Sure I wasn’t pleased with the 5-0 loss to Mexico at home, but I can’t blame a clearly inferior squad to Mexico’s which was half reserves and half starters. My overall take on July and the Gold Cup: don’t sweat it too much.

  • August 2009: Some Good, Mostly Bad

The lead up to the Mexico WC Qualifier is like nothing I’ve seen. Mass media coverage, to which Coach Bob Bradley actually has to explain himself as to why the team isn’t getting acclimated to Estadio Aztecas altitude, something rare. The TV situation in the US which ultimately led to NBC making a channel they owned called MUN2 free for the day of the game to those who had DirecTV or a cable box around the country. Finally, game day arrives and I am confident. I convince three friends to clear their schedules, and five minutes in I feel like a King. “Get out of the half” I keep telling the team with my psychic powers. Fifteen minutes later, the let down. Castro has too much space up top, and puts a perfect shot in. Nothing anyone could do about it really, I’ll admit, except that he shouldn’t have that much space 25 yards out. Then, like someone flipped a switch (Bob Bradley), suddenly the US barley touches the ball the rest of the game. Turtle mode is on and in full swing, which makes me sick to my stomach. A lucky bounce leads to the Mexican goal from 5 yards out, and the game is toast. The Good? Charlie Davies, Oguchi Oneywu, the fact that the US struck early. The Bad? Everything else; including the ref, Donavon with Swine Flu, the disappearance of several key players (my boy Bradley), and Bob Bradley in general. Once again a month leaves USMNT fans with a frustrated feeling to sleep with, and it isn’t fun.

So that has been the roller coaster summer in a nutshell for USMNT and their supporters. Although some of the on-field play has left fans frustrated, the team is arguably at an all time high along with support and media attention for the Yanks. I still believe the confidence is there, and I think with a solid showing in early September against an El Salvador side who took us to the brink and clearly outplayed us in El Salvador back in March could really be another step up.

But now it’s your turn. What was your favorite part of the summer? Disappointed you missed any certain game? Who do you think was the breakout player in all of this? What is your take on the Gold Cup roster scenario? How about the Brazil game? Let me know in the comments. And on a housekeeping note, I will be looking back soon as to what we have learned this summer about specific players and we will also create a “prospect” list as to who’s waiting in the wings for WC 2010. So check back often.

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