Sunday, March 27, 2011

Uncle Sam vs. The Flea, 1 - 1

Last night the US soccer audience was treated to some top flight international football, as the US national team hosted a visit by Lionel 'La Pulga' Messi (The Flea) and his Argentine mates, in one of the most eagerly anticipated 'friendlies' of World Cup pre-qualifying.  The surprisingly aggressive tempo and pace of the match suggested anything but a 'friendly' or 'exhibition' match, as both sides played with an intensity usually reserved for much more important international games.  Not surprisingly, Argentina completely dominated the first half of play.  Both Messi and DiMaria were fantastic and absolutely sliced the American defense open at will.  Luckily for the Yanks, a combination of stellar goalkeeping by Tim Howard and poor finishing by the Argentines, kept the match scoreless through the first 40 minutes.

But Messi and the Argentines were not to be denied.  With a typically wizard display of ball-handling skills, Messi singlehandedly cut through the American defense and played the ball through Bocanegra's legs to DiMaria, whose close range shot was saved by Howard.  Unfortunately, Inter-Milan's Esteban Cambiasso was there to clean up the rebound, and thus Argentina went up 1 - Nil.

Half time mercifully saved the Americans.  To his credit, US Coach Bob Bradley switched to a more attacking lineup at the half, with Chandler coming in at right back to replace Spector, and Agudelo replacing Jones.  The changes proved inspired.  Although the Argentines kept up the pressure, Tim Howard's fine goaltending and an increasingly confident American attack began to surge across the midfield and bring the Argentine defense under some pressure.  In the 59th minute, the Americans proved why they can be so hard to beat by coming from behind yet again, when Landon Donavan's free kick was met in the air by Carlos Bocanegra, whose head shot was blocked but not handled by Argentine keeper Mariano Andujar.  As with the earlier Argentine goal, the rebound was cleaned up by Juan Agudelo, and thus the American's tied mighty Argentina and superstar Lionel Messi in a fairly played and competative match.

The good news for the Americans was the fine goaltending, and the outcome of the match (because a draw against Argentina is a moral victory for the Americans), and yet another inspiring display of gritty, never-say-die determination, for which the US National Team is developing something of a reputation. 

The bad news?  Once again, the Americans were forced to come from behind.  And that remains The Big Problem of the US national soccer team--the regrettable tendency to give up the first goal, going back to the last World cup competition.  The US team has proven itself quite capable of coming back from behind, and the heroics are quite thrilling to watch, but this American soccer fan, for one, wishes the team would score first for a change, and start making that our new tradition.

How's that for a new reputation--the team that scores first.  Yes, I like that better.