I can't resist a quick update on Team USA soccer. Last month I posted about the team's record ten game winning streak heading into the Gold Cup final. The US won that game, securing the Gold Cup championship and their 11th win in a row. Today in Sarajevo in a friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina, they improbably extended the winning streak to a even dozen.
Without getting into too much detail, here are some things you need to know about the match.
The US trailed 2-0 at halftime before scoring four straight second half goals to take control. Although Bob Ley and Alexi Lalas characterized it as a disaster in the studio at halftime, I didn't think it had been that bad. A terrible giveaway led to the first goal, while the second pretty clearly should not have been allowed due to offside and/or an obvious push. Meanwhile the US had enjoyed plenty of possession and had been in dangerous positions in the box on several occasions only to fail to pull the trigger. It was an unfortunate halftime score, but it was not as if the US had looked outclassed.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is good -- really good. They may not be one of the traditional powers (then again, they've only been competing as a separate nation since the 90s) but they are a near lock to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. Given that Europe is easily the best soccer playing continent top to bottom, any European side that is World Cup bound is good. Spain, Italy, Germany and Holland are all leading their qualifying groups in Europe right now as you would expect -- and Bosnia is comfortably leading theirs as well. The Bosnians were also riding a nine game home winning streak.
It was the first time ever that a US team had come from behind on European soil to win a soccer match. Along with recent wins in Italy and against Spain, this was a significant win in the development of an emerging Team USA.
The result is great in and of itself -- but there was other good news in the process. Jozy Altidore spearheaded the comeback, assisting on the first goal and scoring the next three himself. Altidore has scored in five straight appearances at the international level (a US record) and is easily the most dangerous front man the US has ever fielded. His free kick in the 84th minute for the lead was a thing of beauty and a feat of skill rarely seen from a US player -- a dipping strike over the wall and easily under the bar from 25 yards out. It looks so easy when it works, but it ain't easy.
The US is also suddenly looking like a very deep soccer nation -- which is another phenomenon previously unknown in this country. During the winning streak the team has featured three almost entirely different selections and all have played admirably. Consider this -- we've yet to see Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan together during the win streak. The US has a few difference makers and suddenly a lot of solid contributors around them. Altidore (three goals, one assist) and Bradley (two assists) were major factors in this win -- but the fact is we haven't seen the most talented US side play together in a very long time.
As if they didn't look talented enough through Gold Cup, two youngsters made impressive international debuts today. German-American John Brooks, a 20 year old who starts in the Bundesliga, started at central defender and looked solid. He's certainly a physical presence back there at 6'4, but he also appears to have the skills to be a player. Even if he's not going to be ready for Brazil, he looks like he could be a factor for the USMNT in the future. Brooks joins a suddenly competitive battle for spots in the central defense with Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron and Clarence Goodson. Central defense has always been an issue for the US, and suddenly coach Jurgen Klinsmann seems to have options.
The other debut came from Finnish-American Aron Johansson, who petitioned FIFA for a one-time switch of allegiance after competing for Finland in a U-20 competition earlier in his career. Johansson, who was born in Alabama, came on as a second half substitute and made an immediate impact. It's one game so it's unwise to get too excited, but Johansson's combination of pace and touch are not something we often see in US players. He setup Altidore in the box on one pass and freed himself for shot attempts twice more with clever moves. He looks like a real find.
The team will next be in action in early September when CONCACAF World Cup qualifying resumes. The World Cup itself is still 10 months away (or is it just 10 months away -- depends on your perspective) but Team USA has a world of confidence and momentum right now. And who knows -- they may just have the talent to make an impact in the World Cup for the first time.