It was the U.S. vs. Brazil with the Gold Medal on the line. Unlike many past matches of this type, the better team did not win.
The U.S. did.
The game illustrated the two schools of soccer, or futbol, or football — the beautiful game. Brazil played beautifully. They had better players. They passed us silly the first half, back-and-forth across the pitch. They looked deadly early in the second half, firing shot-after-shot at goalie Hope Solo (right). It was one-way traffic until they tired, and the Americans gave up their own short passing game for long breakaways up the middle.
The U.S. goal, by a girl named Carli Lloyd, came seemingly out of nothing, a quick flip to get space and a screamer past the goalie, across the face of goal. Then it was back to hang in there baby, Brazil coming in from all angles, attack after attack, corner after corner, the issue not decided until their last missed by inches less than a minute from time.
We call this grinding it out. When my daughter Robin played, through high school, she became a specialist at this sort of thing. It’s not pretty. It’s exhausting to watch. It’s physical, tackling and getting in front of people, banging the ball downfield just to get a breath.
But it works. At all levels. The balance between the beauty of a Brazil and the grinding it out mentality is what makes the game so compelling. Because you can see the same balance in a U-10 rec game as in a game played by pros.
Speaking of the pros…
Former U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena (right) is finally back in football, large and in charge at the L.A. Galaxy. After celebrity coach Ruud Gullit failed with a team of beautiful stars, someone got a Clue and blew out General Manager Alexi Lalas, giving Arena the keys to the kingdom.
Arena’s first move was to get grind-it-out midfielder Eddie Lewis back from England. Arena made great use of Eddie on the national team, even if he never found his footing in international club football.
That’s OK. Bruce is all about grinding it out, harrying the opposition, falling near the box, scoring off set plays and then going back to business. It’s exasperating, it’s the opposite of beautiful. But it turned Mexico, one of the world’s really great soccer countries, into a U.S. chew toy. Arena got into their heads. They’ve gone through a host of coaches and are now under celebrity Sven Goran Erickson, hoping to get over our hump.
Arena’s debut is tonight against Chicago, and it may take some time to get it right. Cuauhtemoc Blanco is lucky he’s off with the Mexican team or he’d turn to stone at the sight of Arena on the sidelines. Arena’s tactics drove Blanco crazy in 2002. It was American soccer’s finest hour.
One more thing. MLS, despite my criticisms, is becoming a real league. It’s not the Premier League (nothing is) but it’s no longer a place where washed-up Europeans go to skin Uncle Sam off a few dollars on their way to retirement. As even Beckham is learning.
Now Becks will have to learn to grind it out. Or Victoria can find the way to San Jose.
Footie can be fun.