By Graig Carbino - ALBANY, NY (Jun 24, 2009) USSoccerPlayers -- No fight? No heart? The United States took all of that well publicized criticism after losses to Italy and Brazil in the first round of the FIFA Confederations Cup and used it against Spain this afternoon. A rousing 2-0 victory over the number one ranked team in the World should but those complaints to bed for the foreseeable future.
Almost all the statistics pointed toward Spanish dominance on the day. The FIFA game report had Spain down for 29 shots. Yes, you read that right, 29! How many actually ended up on frame? Eight.
Want another stat? How about seventeen corner kicks to three. To the shock of few, Spain held 56% percent of the possession in this contest and certainly held the edge in meaningful ownership of the ball. For all that work, what they couldn't do was produce quality chances when it counted. The US scored on both of their shots on goal.
The United States only committed nine fouls today to Spain’s thirteen. That same old problem came up again though as Michael Bradley was ejected in the 87th minute for a supposed foul in the middle part of the field.
Replays seemed to show that Bradley went in low and may have even taken the ball with the challenge. Nonetheless referee Jorge Larrionda pulled out the red card and Bradley was gone. He will now miss the final on Sunday against either Brazil or South Africa.
You remember Larrionda right? He of officiating fame (or infamy) from World Cup 2006. To refresh your memory he was the match official for the United States epic 1-all draw with Italy that ended ten on nine after three red cards. He messed up again today. Luckily for the US it came late enough as not to effect the outcome.
Ref issues aside, the United States came out today and once again displayed the effort necessary to stick with Spain if nothing else. They did not show any early lapses in concentration that had been so backbreaking in recent matches. Focus from the start was always going to be paramount against a Spain team that likes to dictate the pace and possession early until they find a weak spot. Today, that kink in the armor never appeared.
As the old saying goes, goals change games and the US needed to score first today. Jozy Altidore duly obliged in the 25th minute with his first goal for the United States this tournament. The crucial tally was set up after neat interplay between Charlie Davies and Clint Dempsey. After swapping passes down the left side Dempsey played a deflected ball into Altidore near the top of the Spanish box.
The Villarreal forward was able to hold off and spin past club teammate Joan Capdevila before smashing an effort on goal. The shot wrong-footed Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas who was only able to palm the ball off of his right post and into the net.
If the power and strength of Altidore made the first for the US then the precision and patience of Benny Feilhaber created the second. Feilhaber dribbled through the Spanish defense with poise before slotting the ball out wide to Landon Donovan.
Donovan looked like he might shoot before sliding the ball across the box looking for a teammate to get on the end of it. Spain had a few chances to clear but failed to do so. Clint Dempsey was only too happy to punish their lackadaisicalness by stealing the ball off of Sergio Ramos and smashing the ball into the back of the net. Two nothing to the US and that was game, set, and match.
The Dempsey goal came in the 73rd minute, nearly fifty grueling minutes after Altidore’s opening mark. The time in between was dominated by Spain who poked and prodded but could never find that killer move to unlock the United States defense.
The efforts of goalie Tim Howard and defenders Jonathan Spector, Oguchi Onyewu, and Jay Demerit alongside returning captain Carlos Bocanegra cannot be understated. Onyewu and Demerit in particular were immense once again in the center. Onyewu won everything in the air and DeMerit snuffed out most ground attacks.
Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark were split by through balls from back to front more times then they would have liked, but chased and harried the likes of Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso nearly into submission. That said, with players like Fernando Torres and David Villa the Spanish were always going to have chances. Unfortunately for them, they were never able to make that vital breakthrough.
Desire and guts were words that were thrown around over the past week as traits that this US team did not possess. After Sunday against Egypt, those pundits and prognosticators should have quickly reconsidered. After Wednesday in Bloemfontein, they should be ashamed of themselves.
It’s not always the best team that wins. Sometimes it’s the team that just flat out wants it more. Today Landon Donovan and all the ground he covered wanted it more. Today Jay Demerit and his crunching, never let up tackles wanted it more. Today Clint Dempsey and all his flicks and look away passes and diving header determination wanted it more.
You know what? This US team just flat-out wanted it more than the World's number one and their efforts were rewarded with victory. Desire, heart and guts are just buzz words. Leaving it all out on the field and rightfully taking your triumph is what really matters. Today the United States did just that.
Graig Carbino covers American Abroad and writes a weekly column for USSoccerPlayers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org