Scott Adams

In one brilliant night of soccer that left sangria bottles
popping from Los Angeles to New York, United States soccer’s
flighty Project 2010 went from defunct to back on track.
In one brilliant night of soccer that left sangria bottles popping from Los Angeles to New York, United States soccer’s flighty Project 2010 went from defunct to back on track.

The U.S. defeated Spain, FIFA’s top ranked team, 2-0 in a Confederations Cup semifinal Wednesday in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Although it was not a World Cup match, futbol pundits are labeling it the best … win … ever … in American soccer history.

Was it really that big? Oh yeah.

Let’s back up for a moment. For those of you who don’t know, Project 2010 was unveiled in 1998 as a 12-year project to develop U.S.-born talent, thus making the Americans a World Cup contender by the 2010 tournament. It has cost $50 million and, to me, is worth every penny.

Even if the Americans fall on their swords in South Africa next year, you can say the team’s progress has been nothing short of impressive.

The U.S., which finished dead last in the 1998 World Cup, today is respected on the global stage and ranked No. 14 in the world by FIFA.

For the first time ever, the United States is almost consistently good at soccer, almost consistently really good. It may take Sam’s Army a loss here and there to get going, but look at Wednesday’s end result, a victory – on foreign soil no less – against a marquee team that has not lost in nearly two years.

This does not mean the Americans are going to win mankind’s toughest tournament next summer, but it does mean they can hang with the best.

Even the best teams have lapses. France won the World Cup in 1998 and made the finals in 2006. In between, the French did not advance out of pool play in 2002. Spain and Netherlands, two traditional heavyweights, have not won a World Cup. Argentina is in a recession. Germany has not won since 1990 — and that was West Germany at the time. England, the birthplace of soccer, has claimed only one World Cup title. The U.S. was eliminated in pool play in 2006 after reaching the quarterfinals in 2002.

Even Brazil loses; remember when it lost to the Americans in 1998?

“There will be ups and downs in any cycle,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati told reporters after Wednesday’s win. “I think this tournament makes that point very clearly. Tonight was a very big up.”

Sure, the U.S. opened the Confederations Cup with a pair of ugly losses, but look at the opponents the Americans drew for pool play: Italy, the defending World Cup winner; Brazil, the New York Yankees of soccer; and Egypt, the reigning African champions.

And the Americans still advanced. Not only that, they blanked Spain and will play in their first FIFA tournament final in history Sunday.

Did you see the Spaniards? Some of them have long hair. Some of them get paid millions of dollars to play a “noncontact” sport. Some of them don’t have last names. Every one of their players was better, man for man, than his American counterpart.

And the Americans still dominated. They received gritty goals from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey on hustle plays, plus an inspired performance by goalkeeper Tim Howard who brought back memories of Jim Craig in the Miracle on Ice.

Not to hint at a comparison – Wednesday’s game featured no miracles. The Americans looked like the stronger, more aggressive team for the first 70 minutes, finding feet, clogging passing lanes and playing with urgency.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley, for the most part, stuck with the same alignment and starters that overwhelmed the Pharaohs in a must-win game Sunday. He kept Charlie Davies and Ricardo Clark in the first string and Landon Donovan, the team’s emotional leader, at midfield. The result was an assist by Donovan on Dempsey’s goal.

“We had a real confidence that we could try to make it harder for them than some of the other teams they have played against,” Bradley said. “And we had the weapons that could cause them trouble.”

How far has Bradley’s bunch come? The Americans get another chance to show the world at 11:25 a.m. Sunday in the Confederations Cup Final – against Brazil.

Even a two-goal loss won’t change my opinion about Project 2010. Though it has not produced a LeBron or Kobe in American soccer, it it has crafted a team that others will be watching out for a year from now.

Wasn’t that the point?

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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