Let me first say the U.S. win over spain is a shocking victory and one of the biggest wins in US soccer history. To win in the semifinals of a FIFA tournament against the undisputed number one team in the world that had won 15 straight and hadn’t lost in 35 (since 2006) is no doubt a landmark victory. But this is not a “miracle on grass” as George Vescey of the NY Times suggests and is not the impossible victory that many are portraying it to be. Why not?
Well because the U.S. is a good team. This is not – as George Vescey seems to think – an amateur side with little talent that defies the odds (as the USA Olympic hockey team was). First, ask yourselves if Mexico beat Spain would the world it be a “miracle.” No it wouldn’t – it would be a definite upset, but Mexico is very solid club that can play with the top clubs. So if the U.S. – who Vescey himself said that US should indisputably be ranked hire than Mexico for the World Cup – beats Spain its a miracle?
Vescey goes on writes:
as the equivalent of those one-off thrillers, like Gonzaga or Davidson beating one of the giants of American college basketball. Compelling? Sure. Significant? Not necessarily…The inequity is what made this match such a spectacle. The Spanish players are regulars for Barcelona and Liverpool in the richest leagues of Europe. The Americans play in the earnest Major League Soccer or are mostly role players and reserves in Europe…Nobody in the American soccer federation will dare to claim that this was the day the country came of age in the world’s most important sport. Not until American boys and girls play feral soccer on their own, for the love of the sport, will the nation develop its own Jordan, its own Pujols, its own Crosby or Malkin, its own Maradona.
There is so much wrong with this. Memo to George: we are not in the 1990s anymore. First, The U.S. majority of the U.S. players on the field are solid starters in Europe. Boca, Gooch, Dempsey, Bradley, Demerit and Davies are all solid starters in Europe. Spector and Altidore are both really young and are considered players with tremendous talent. The only MLS players on the field were Clark and Donovan – and Donovan was at Bayern in the spring. Second, American boys and girls need to play for the love of the sport? What exactly are millions of kids doing right now – they aren’t exactly playing for money? In fact, what needs to happen is that American kids need to start playing not just for the love of the sport but with an eye that they can get rich, gain glory and have a career – just as they do in basketball, baseball, and football. And you may have just witnessed the first American soccer superstar – Altidore is 19 and is as good as it gets at that age.
Third, this game is significant. Vescey describes it as a one off fluke. But this game is significant precisely because this is not a fluke. Now we are nowhere near as good as Spain or England or Germany or Brazil. But we have shown the world with this victory – and our performances over the last decade – that we are very very capable team on par with teams in the tier just below the giants – the Swedens, the Belgiums, the Polands. That may not sound like much to the always demanding American soccer fan. But think about it this way 20 years ago it was a legitimate “miracle” that we beat the small island nation of Trinidad to qualify for the World Cup. Seven years ago we were universally picked to finish last in our group and no international commentator knew anything about the American team. Today, British writers have said that the U.S. was the toughest challenge faced by Spain – meaning that they considered superior to South Africa, Iraq, and New Zealand. There was a time not long ago that that is exactly the category that everyone would put us in. A UK Reuters blogger writes:
the U.S are at least on a level with the second tier nations in Europe — the Swiss, the Scandinavians, the Belgians, the Austrians and the most of the teams from Eastern Europe and results in friendly games back up that view.
This matters. Being viewed as a legitimate footballing nation, means that scouts for the big international clubs will increase their interest in the U.S. and foreign clubs will take the signing of American players seriously. It also has direct significance for the players playing. The BBC football writer who was providing minute by minute coverage was drooling over Jay Demerit, writing only half joking that “Jay DeMerit adds another £5m on to his price tag with a brilliant block.” It could also mean more foreign interest in the U.S. domestic league – possibly helping to attract more international players to the MLS on loan deals. It will also mean that when we win a big international game – it wont be viewed as a “miracle” but because we actually aren’t have bad.