The United States national team shocked the world, first, by making the knockout round of the Confederations Cup and, then, by advancing to the final over current European champions Spain. Unfortunately for the Americans, a second half collapse in the final meant that Brazil won the trophy 3-2, but the team can take heart from a solid overall performance.
Few outside of the U.S. team camp would have predicted a knockout round berth for the Americans after the atrocious first two displays. Up against Italy and Brazil, the USA caved early and comprehensively. With one red card in each game, the Americans lost by a combined score of 6-1, which didn't fully underscore how comprehensively the team was obliterated.
True, it took an inspired Giuseppe Rossi substitution to decide the Italy game, but as soon as the Italians equalized, the U.S. seemed to give up. Heads hung. Limbs slackened. Drive evaporated. From there on out it was a rather simple match for the current World Cup holders, who won 3-1. Days later, against Brazil, an early freekick goal meant more of the same. The score was only kept down at 3-0 because the Samba Boys flicked on cruise control in the second half.
Heart = Turnaround
It was unlikely, but the U.S. team headed into the final game with a chance of advancing, despite having collected zero points in the first two games. America had to win by three goals and hope Italy lost by a similar amount to Brazil. In its path was an upstart Egypt team that had taken Brazil down to the wire in a 4-3 loss and had beaten Italy 1-0 in the second match.
A prostitute scandal the night before may or may not have helped, but the Egyptians came out limp, and the Americans took advantage, finally showing the determination and passion that had been missing. Goals from Charlie Davies, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey eased the way to a commanding 3-0 win. Italy lost by a similar score, mostly thanks to a whirlwind end to the first half against Brazil. Despite the overwhelming odds, the U.S. was through to the semifinals.
Against Spain, no one gave the U.S. a shot, including this pundit. Instead of collapsing like in earlier matches, the Americans delivered their best performance of the competition, stifling the possession midfield and forcing the Spaniards wide all game. Enormous performances by Tim Howard and his defenders helped repel a lethal attack to advance to the country's first final in a major tournament.
Against five-time World Cup winners Brazil, the U.S. took a shock lead after 10 minutes. Clint Dempsey guided home an early Jonathan Spector cross. Sitting deep, the U.S. hit out on a counter minutes later, with Landon Donovan finishing off a scintillating move.
However, the defense couldn't hold. A minute into the second half, Luis Fabiano struck to turn the tide. The Sevilla striker added a second from a close-range header before captain Lucio headed home the winner with six minutes to go. The U.S. conceded three goals in one half to throw away the trophy.
After the first Brazil loss, the shrieks for coach Bob Bradley's head were deafening. However, two wins later, and the Bradley apologists poked their heads back out, whispering meekly, “We told you he wasn't so bad.” The final appearance has certainly sealed Bradley's job as the team prepares for the 2010 World Cup, however, some resentment against the conservative coach remains.
Tim Howard 8
Howard proved he is among the world's elite in this competition. For every goal his defenders left him no chance on, he made a handful of saves from shots that should have found the back of the net. Won the golden gloves award.
Brad Guzan 7
Came in for Howard against Egypt and performed nicely. Kept a clean sheet and made a couple good saves, but looked hesitant coming off his line.
Jonathan Spector 6
Performed solidly. He's certainly not the worst fullback Americans have seen in the last couple months, but he does get caught out occasionally and tends to tuck in more than necessary.
Oguchi Onyewu 7
Gooch played like his stature: huge. Had the second most tackles in the tournament (10) and didn't seem to lose a single aerial battle. Him and DeMerit forced teams to go around them, as there was no way through.
Jay DeMerit 8
Not quite as big or fast as Onyewu, DeMerit relied on superior positioning. His ferocious play embodied the American spirit as he willed the ball away from danger areas.
Jonathan Bornstein 4
The Chivas USA fullback was out of his depth. He looked like a boy running around barefooted against professionals. His energy going forward was undone by a host of defensive errors and lapses which cost the USA dear in the first two games.
Carlos Bocanegra 5
Helped solidify the left of the defense when he returned from injury in the knockout stages, but was clearly not up to full form. Despite playing as a fullback for Rennes, Bocanegra frequently looked like a centerback forced wide.
Clint Dempsey 6
Genius or disastrous, Dempsey gave nothing in between. He capped off an atrocious opening game, in which he gave away the ball repeatedly and hardly pressed his man, with a failed bunny hop. He capped off the last three games with opportunistic goals and some inventive play down the flanks. Won the bronze ball.
Michael Bradley 7.5
He's grown into a legitimate threat for the U.S. Still shows flashes of the hothead play that plagued earlier years (how much did his suspension cost the team in the final?), but is a complete player in the middle of the part, winning back balls energetically and starting the majority of the quality American counterattacks.
Ricardo Clark 6
Proved that he can play at this level. The Houston Dynamo uses grit and tenacity to make up for any deficient skills. Has an eye for the quick pass (see: Landon Donovan's goal against Brazil).
Landon Donovan 7
The linchpin of the U.S. attack, Donovan added hustle and defensive marking to his role on the squad as he moved back to a wide midfield role. His set piece delivery improved as the tournament wore on, as did his orchestration skills on the counter. Should have been more greedy when shots fell to him.
Sacha Kljestan 5
This is a player clearly out of form – for club and country. His early red against Brazil in the group stages helped the U.S. on to its worst performance of the tournament, and he didn't do much to benefit the squad in later games. Gave away the ball frequently and didn't create anything.
Benny Feilhaber 6
Certainly played his part. When asked to provide a creative option off the bench, he delivered. When asked to get stuck in more as a central midfielder in the final, he provided. It was only in the first Brazil game that he went missing.
DaMarcus Beasley 4
Simply not international quality anymore. His lack of effectiveness on either side of the ball is punctuated by a host of mistakes that harm his team. He needs a break from international ball for an indefinite and lengthy amount of time.
Jozy Altidore 6
The talented teen is certainly a quality player who showed glimpses of what he will do for the national team, but overall Altidore was wasteful of his chances. Seemed too content to wait for things to happen instead of forcing mistakes out of defenders.
Charlie Davies 7
It's no coincidence the USA started winning once Davies entered the lineup. His burning pace and workmanlike attitude provided a constant outlet for the U.S. on counterattacks.
Conor Casey 5
Brought in to be the target man in the place of the injured Brian Ching and largely failed. He was reduced to sub appearances in which he was forced wide and couldn't seem to collect with his back to goal.
Team MVP: Tim Howard
The Everton shot-stopper kept the U.S. in a host of games, long after the team should have been buried. His performances against Spain and Brazil in the knockout stages in particular helped earn him the golden gloves award. Despite resting one game, Howard made 33 saves in the the competition, nearly double the next closest goalie, South Africa's Itumeleng Khune with 17.
Special mention goes to defender Jay DeMerit, whose Herculean efforts at the back ensured him a starting spot even when captain Carlos Bocanegra returned from injury and helped prove that he is too talented to be in the English Championship.
Team Flop: DaMarcus Beasley
Jonathan Bornstein pushed him hard with some shaky performances on the left flank, but Beasley takes the cake. In the only game he started, the Rangers winger managed to let a simple pass from a corner get away from him as Brazil raced away to score the second goal. His form for the national team of late leaves no questions as to why he can't get a game for Rangers.
USA 1-3 Italy (Donovan, Rossi, De Rossi, Rossi)
USA 0-3 Brazil (Melo, Robinho, Maicon)
Egypt 0-3 USA (Davies, Bradley, Dempsey)
Spain 0-2 USA (Altidore, Dempsey)
USA 2-0 Brazil (Dempsey, Donovan, Fabiano, Fabiano, Lucio)
Goals: Dempsey (3), Donovan (2)
Assists: Spector (2), three tied on 1
Red cards: Clark (1), Kljestan (1), Bradley (1)
Yellow cards: seven players tied on 1
Fouls committed: Altidore (12), Donovan (9)
Fouls suffered: Altidore (11), Spector (9), Donovan (8)
Offsides: Altidore (3), Casey (2)
Solo runs: Donovan (11), Dempsey (8)
Clearances: Onyewu (21), DeMerit (12), Bornstein (10)
Tackles: Onyewu (10), DeMerit (8)
Zac Lee Rigg is an associate editor of Goal.com
For more on the Confederations Cup visit Goal.com's Confederations Cup page.