I watched the US Men’s National Team win their Copa American quarterfinal game at a local sports establishment with my De La Salle players.
At first, I asked the manager for a section to put the game on a TV, and he looked at me weird. After all, it was Game 6 for the NBA Finals. He finally succumbed to letting me have a space outside for us to view the hard-fought US win. It is something we soccer people always put up in general when it comes to most American establishments.
Well, people started coming in with soccer in mind. Our section filled. He was shocked. As the game went on, I paid attention to the amount of TVs on Copa America and on the NBA Finals. Slowly but surely, the general crowd heard our cheering and started getting curious. The TVs started to change to the US game with Ecuador. Time passed and more TVs changed to the Copa America game.
The fan interest caused me to think. In my previous assignments, our soccer programs were able to rival basketball and baseball crowds. I am looking forward to the TV ratings to see if what I saw happened nationally.
I’ve been there before. In 2002 when US made their run to the Korea/Japan World Cup quarterfinals. Against Germany, whose star player was current US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, seemingly everyone in this country was excited. I was able to get my entire soccer camp to watch the game at 5:30 a.m and had a local TV crew film our reaction to the game. Our theatre was packed and our team came close, losing 1-0 after the referees missed a handball by Germany on a US shot that would have at least let us compete in extra time.
That handball affected my life. I hoped that with a win, since Americans love winners, US fans would have started to pay much closer attention and finally watch soccer. All it takes is to watch the game to become hooked like the rest of the planet. That win did not happen so coaches like me in the SEC states are coaching at the highest level of interest soccer there is in most places – high school and youth clubs.
I dreamed that college and then pros would explode in interest, but the route for us is different than it is for the big three. I have been doing my best, and now the US men made it to the semis in the prestigious Copa for the first time since 1995. It is not a World Cup so it will not be as big a deal as it could be. But it is finally a step in the right direction.
Passion and Competence
I’ve been coaching and teaching for 30 years. I’ve seen systems, education and coaching evolve. That’s all good. Still, no matter what system you use, there is no substitute for passion and competence on the pitch. US players like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Brad Guzan have both. The other players were able to feed off of their leadership and then hold on by their fingernails to win 2-1 against Ecuador, currently ranked 13th in the world by FIFA. In contrast, the US is 31st.
Yes, it was a victory in one of our true home field locales, Seattle, which was not sold out for some reason. But that does not detract from the accomplishment.
Dempsey’s goal in the 22nd minute put the US in the lead. You could see the determination in his eyes. He was not going to accept a defeat. His goal was an excellent finish on a header.
Then, one of the Achilles’ heals for the US raised its head again. Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia earned his second yellow card thus causing his ejection. Then needlessly, Jermaine Jones was ejected after he slyly hit an Ecuadorian players face after the ensuing argument. From that point on, both teams played with 10 players.
Not long after, an aging Dempsey’s knew his time was running short but pounded at a chance for his second goal. His shot that was deflected by Ecuador keeper’s Alexander Dominguez’s finger and was buried by Gyasi Zardes at the far post, giving the US a 2-0 lead.
Usually, in my experience, the game changes at 2-0. The team with two has to fight the temptation that the game is won and has experienced that whatever team that scores the third goal usually wins. Well, Ecuador increased their pressure and that move paid off in the 74th minute when Walter Ayoví played a restart to the right foot of Michael Arroyo. Trailing with more space on the pitch after the red cards, Ecuador came to life.
As announcer JP Dellacamera said on FS1, “Game on!”
The Americans then parked the bus, and Ecuador kept coming but the law of soccer averages did not go their way. Ecuador head coach, Gustavo Quinteros was sent off towards the end of the game when his coaches threw a water bottle on the field after disagreeing with a foul call outside the box.
At that point, central defender John Brooks and his galant teammates made sure that the goal stayed clean until the final whistle.
Congratulations to Coach Klinsmann for guiding this team along this winning trek. Congratulations to the players who have dedicated their lives to becoming top level successes.
Now we wait for the semis on Tuesday. Venezuela or powerhouse Argentina will be waiting.
God bless you and your families.