Soccer: Analysis of U.S. Win Over South Africa


My night "day job" came into collision Wednesday, so it was logistically impossible to post immediately following the USMNT's nice, spirit-building 1-0 win over South Africa in Cape Town at the Nelson Mandela Challenge.

The reason?

My "day job" as a sportswriter entailed me covering a state playoff soccer game, which ended in penalty kicks, 8-6, with the losing keeper employing an Edwin van der Sar 2008 Champions League Final tactic of pointing in the direction the kick taker would go. (The winning team won it's quarterfinal Monday in penalties, too, so apparently he studied the tape.)

Since Nic Anelka wasn't lining up for kicks, it didn't quite work.

It didn't dawn on me until I sat down to finally blog the proverbial night away, that many of the kids on the field I peered down on Wednesday were just as old, if not older than the U.S.'s goal-scorer vs. the Bafana Bafana, 17-year-old Juan Agudelo.

Sometimes it's easy to get wrapped up in thinking how players around the world are plucked up and dropped into academies or pro clubs at ages as young as eight and this is the right course of action if the U.S. is ever to get serious about making a dent on the world stage. Then you remember just how foreign that concept itself is Stateside. Hell, the NCAA made a deal with the NBA so talented high school basketball players had to put on the charade of being a "student athlete" Dick Vitale can slobber over, instead of letting them apply for the NBA.

For instance one player on the winning team from that high school game I covered tonight is legitimately good. Lethal left foot, skilled on the ball, vision to pass ... just about all you could want from a kid at that level. Tallied an actual dipping, golazo from the edge of the box.

So if this kid is that good, what does that make Agudelo?

And that's not to hype the young New York Red Bulls Academy product, even if, like Chuck Norris when he attempts a push-up, he's not pushing up, but actually pushing the Earth down. It's trying to contextualize something that's a rarity in American sports -- a young talent on the world stage.

However you want to look at Agudelo's late winner -- set up by Mix Diskerud's fancy footwork -- this result turned out as great as possible for the U.S. as it could.

Beyond finishing the season with a record above .500, it seemed to give U.S. fans still angry or disallusioned or apathetic toward four more years of Bradley, some hope for 2011. The fresh, skilled displays by Agudelo and Diskerud in limited minutes were things to get excited about. The cultured, composed defense by Tim Ream and Eric Lichaj were things for the team to build on.

For the first time I can remember, watching the U.S. felt, dare I say it, fresh. Maybe not as fresh as when Bruce Arena started integrating a young Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley into the mix before the 2002 World Cup, but it felt different than the boring, old, predictable stuff we've seen post-World Cup 2010.

And most of those positive feeling can be chalked up to a moment of brilliance from a kid, who up to a couple years ago, probaly would be waking up this morning getting ready for his Social Studies test on Teapot Dome Scandal.

Other Stuff:

* Definitely loved Agudelo's "gee-whiz/aww shucks" interview after the game with Jeremy Schaap, with some honest reactions, including how he thought he might be offside.

* If there's a big takeaway from this match, it's that the new-guard of "new" players (Lichaj, Ream, Agudelo, Mix, Bunbury.) should be given more looks than the old, "new" players (Robbie Rogers, Eddie Gaven, Robbie Findley). The latter group has had ample chances to shine, and not to overreact over one meaningless game in November, but the new guys are more deserving at this point. (I'll explore this more when I'm not so tired, ok?)

* Let's be fair, too, South Africa was woefully poor. Steven Pienaar? If I'm David Moyes, don't let the door hit you on the way out of Goodison Park.

* Nothing noteworthy to mention from my pal Ian Darke today, who again made John Harkes tolerable to listen to for nearly two hours. Darke did get a little too hung up on South Africa forward Davide Somma saying he was going to destroy the U.S. Let it go Ian.

Steve McManaman was candid in ESPN's U.S.-based studio. Not sure we needed Sal Masekela's super-depressing feature about the immediate impact the World Cup had on South Africa. Grim. Real Grim.

* Very impressed again by Eric Lichaj. Hard to see him getting much run this season at Aston Villa, barring injuries, but he seems like a player the club does have plans for.

* Also, guess it doesn't matter that Brad Guzan is not playing week-in, week-out in the Premier League as Brad Freidel's understudy. The ex-Chivas USA keeper was sure-handed and an impressive in the air vs. the Bafana Bafana.

* Bob Ley mentioned in passing that guys like Bunbury and Mix could still switch national allegiances since it wasn't a full FIFA game. Is that true?

* Not sure why nobody could track down Roy Wegerle for some discussion on the U.S/South Africa international relations.


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