With an impressive 2-0 win over Panama on Tuesday in Seattle, the US Men’s National Soccer Team now sits in first place atop the World Cup Qualifying CONCACAF Group, also known as the “hex.” Fans were excited, bars were packs, chants of USA rang through, and all for a US team that looked well, pretty good.
The US has no problem winning at home; in fact, they haven’t lost a home qualifier since 2001. So the fact that it was a win at home against Panama is not exactly the “wow” part, but it’s the way they did it. You saw creative playmaking from the midfield and attack, excellent one-touch balls and passing, and aggressive ball movement up the field that was some of the best shown yet by this US squad.
Jozy Altidore scored a beautiful goal to get the US up 1-0 in the first half, running in back post and nailing a shot past the keeper, on a perfectly low-crossed ball from Fabian Johnson. It’s the third goal for Altidore in the last three games, and his seventh in the Final Round of World Cup Qualifying, tying him with Landon Donovan for the most in team history. Then, in the 53rd minute and in front of a home town crowd, Seattle Sounders Eddie Johnson got behind Panama’s defense and chipped the ball over the keeper, giving the US its second goal.
The win for the US has many sports commentators (rhymes with Falexi Falas) and fans quick to punch their tickets to Brazil. And while the US has been putting on a good showing, they are certainly not out of the woods yet.
Next up for the US is a June 18 home game verse Honduras, who already beat the US in the Hex, then following a summer of friendly games and CONCACAF Gold Cup Play, World Cup qualifying resumes in September with two very big games for the US. The US plays at Costa Rica Sep.7 and has a home game against Mexico Sep.10, and both opponents are tied for 2nd in the group. Then the US will host Jamaica Oct.11 and Panama Oct. 15, both of which should hopefully result in wins.
If the US were to get into the World Cup, and I’m hoping they do, another big discussion point that has come up is how this US team would fare against the likes of Germany, Japan, and even Brazil. Some say that if the US does move forward and qualifies, the success of the team depends on the draw – drawing Brazil, Belgium and Japan could signal an early exit but Oman, Ecuador and possibly Zambia (though they have shown recently well) could mean a longer run.
Then there are those that like to dig on CONCACAF, saying that even a win there for the US does not mean anything since they are not “real opponents” (I overheard a guy in the bar discussing). To be honest, while yes there are obviously teams out there that are better than those in the CONCACAF, the fact is that a lot of fans consistently underplay just how difficult it is to go on the road in CONCACAF and get a point. The US got 4 of the 10 points it has from 3 games on the road, so I’ll take that with a positive note.
I’m with the mind set of let’s take it one game at a time. To make predictions now of where the US will fall in line with other teams at the World Cup is a bit putting the carriage before the horse. But then I’m reminded of the 2002 US vs Portugal match, when midfielder John O’Brien stunned everyone (even Americans) with a goal that literally shocked everyone, and led to the still tear-wrenching quarterfinal loss to Germany.
Yes, I realize I just went way ahead of the horse but bear with me for a second.
No one had the US going that far, but they pulled together and did it (sound “We are the Champions” ..I know..). Anyways, here we are with a US team that is playing well, and whose go-to guys are actually showing up. To say it’s a long shot to get to the World Cup now is a stretch in itself, because the US could very well do it. Now, whether you should go out just yet and buy your tickets for Brazil, that’s up to you.
But hey, a little optimism never hurts right?