ESPN Soccer Analyst and all-time leading US goalscorer Eric Wynalda often says that players win games, coaches lose games and referees ruin games. Toward the end of Sunday’s broadcast of the USA/Brazil match, he said that everyone was having a good game except the referee. While I would not go as far to say that Mexican referee Armando Archundia ruined the game, he was terrible and his lack of judgment had a large influence on the outcome. His main mistakes were a missed penalty/red card on Lucio for a foul on Josh Wolff and a phantom foul called on Carlos Bocanegra that resulted in Brazil’s third goal. I will not dwell on the poor officiating because the game was played beautifully by both sides, but you can see the poor calls and some of the beauty for yourself as the highlights are posted here.
Michael Bradley, who has quickly become my favorite player, was awesome in the midfield. As a good 6 does, he tracked Ronaldinho and Kaka through the midfield time and again delayed or outright stopped their counterattacks; he tackled well; he passed well; and he played out of tight spaces superbly. He was the star of the game for the USA. The only mark on his record for the day was an ill-timed tackle that resulted in a pk and Brazil’s fourth goal. I am hoping Bradley shakes the bad habit of poor tackles near the end of matches. It got him sent off in the Gold Cup and in a meaningful match or tournament would have been much more costly than in the friendly.
None of the US players looked out of their element. Each had moments. On the second US goal, a thing of pure beauty even a team of Brazil’s reputation would be proud to achieve, the US strung together the old up-back-through before Clint Dempsey one-timed a perfectly delivered Steve Cherundolo cross into the far side-netting. It is hard to pick out the best part of the goal: Landon Donovan’s chip into space, Cherundolo’s smart cross, or Dempsey’s finish. It was the best lead up to a US goal since the first goal against Mexico in the 2002 World Cup.
After some disappointing performances in Copa America and a rather drab draw with Sweden, I was encouraged by the commitment and vigor shown by the US players. Pessimists may say that moral victories are for losers, but as Paul Harvey said: I’ve never seen a monument erected to a pessimist.