The forward was at the peak of his powers against Costa Rica and little of what built the US so impressive would have been possible without him
What a glorious thing pressure is. In the working day following their limp opening day loss to Colombia, in which they assured a lot of the ball and did nothing with it, it might have been easy for the USs players to succumb to the gloom engulfing all discussion of football in this country. Losing to Colombia caused all the annoyances associated with five years of halting advance under Jrgen Klinsmann to come suppurating out: the big off-field promises, the meagre on-field outcomes, the enervating Jrgenvness all hand-waving and hoping for the best of the coach-and-four management of a playing group of inconsistent quality. The football-supporting public was at breaking point.
But succumb the team did not. Just the opposite, in fact: with their tournament on the line, their coach-and-four in danger of “losing ones” task, their very identity as a squad in question, the embarrassment of exiting a tournament on home clay in the first round looming, anxiety over the quality of the next generation of playing talent at a pitch, the public angry and impatient at the enduring stasis of “the member states national” squad, and the future of the sport in America, seemingly, in the balance, the US mens national squad thrived. They delivered the various kinds of quick-witted, counter-punching performance that has been often pledged, and seldom delivered, during Klinsmanns reign. If this is what this team can do with their backs to the wall, it may be wise to keep the wall within reach.
This was a performance that mixed the best of US footballs traditional combativeness with a new set of qualities: mobility, clever movement off the ball, width, and lethal finishing. This victory was built on more than only lumping the ball forward and hoping for the best; it wasnt about big men crashing through or wearing the foe down through superior physicality. There was genuine craft and guile to the teams play, the goals, and the style they were constructed. Old Soccer, meet New Football.
There had been considerable clamor for Klinsmann to change his starting lineup from the 11 players who had labored through the torpor of the opening match. Klinsmann dismissed the crowd and stuck to his sentences, convinced as he was that the US had in fact played well against Colombia the two objectives confessed aside. Does Jrgen know? On the evidence presented by last night, he does because this was a victory built on the contributions of those most under pressure following the loss on Friday.
There were impressive showings from Gyasi Zardes and Bobby Wood, but this was a victory, above all, for the teams veteran wing: if last night proves anything, its that in the US mens national team, the old dudes are definitively back. Michael Bradley, whos merely 28 but has been an established presence in the national squad for a decade, was less influential in this game than he had been against Colombia, but thats a good thing, because his influence on Friday had been almost totally negative. Here Bradley tidied up his defensive game and offered small glimmers of quality moving forward: his raking, 50 -yard cross-field pass in the buildup to Woods goal, in particular, was a thing of no small beauty. 29 -year-old Alejandro Bedoya brought an elastic enthusiasm to the wing that had been almost completely absent in the constrict, slog, possession-for-possessions-sake display the US midfield gave against Colombia. At his best the Nantes winger, bulge-eyed and scurry-footed in his darts down the flank, reminds me of a particularly well-paid marmot.