Why Saturday’s U.S. national team win matters

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A bit of a Sunday hangover developed yesterday regarding the U.S. national team, which had shellacked Scotland in a Saturday night Florida frolic, 5-1.

So Saturday brought euphoria over the accomplishment. The United States doesn’t beat European teams this way, after all. Yes, a team led previously by Bob Bradley or Bruce Arena might open a can of U.S. might on Cuba or some other economy car on the CONCACAF highway, but a four-goal win over Scotland? That’s one to Facebook about!

Then came Sunday. I got a few Twitter messages and blog comments that were all along the same theme: tap the brakes, ye media mavens, for Scotland is a poor, poor side at the moment. Saturday’s win doesn’t mean so much.

Only, I’m not buying it. The naysayers and buzz killers don’t get it.

It wasn’t the score; it was the manner in which it was achieved, stylistic, tenacious of pressure and perfectly representative of the plan manager Jurgen Klinsmann hatched nine months ago. (And Scotland, weakened no doubt, is a squad just the same of proud pros from quality European leagues.)

We all see contests where the score doesn’t accurately reflect the match’s true colors, where things just kind of get wackily out of hand at the end. This wasn’t one of them. The United States dominated front to back against a Scottish side that was never allowed to locate a groove in the steamy Florida night.

But again, it wasn’t just the margin. It was the U.S. flourish and the new way of playing that has everyone toasting Uncle Soccer Sam and rushing to laptops to order up another U.S. scarf or T-shirt.

This was a night where U.S. fans saw Klinsmann’s devilish plan come to beautiful fruition. He has preached of how best to get after opposition: he wants players stationed further up the field; greater tactical aggression from a less rigid arrangement, more pressure applied on offense and defense, a ploy that demands high confidence and higher degrees of fitness.

He’s been gradually building the elements, and Saturday it coalesced impressively.

By the way, the best two U.S. forwards of the moment, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, weren’t even on the field. So how ‘bout them apples?

Yes, this Scotland was a poor version of itself. But players and managers had promised a typically spirited effort, if nothing else. Only, that didn’t matter. Spirit only gets you so far against a confident bunch that’s committed to a high-pressure methodology.

It doesn’t mean that the United States can go do the same to Spain or Germany or Argentina. Or Brazil, for that matter, as we might see Wednesday. But it does say this: The new way gives Klinsmann’s side the ability to dominate regional sides the way fans have long wished they could. And they won’t need to sit back and take it, hoping to bang something in on the counter against the global bully boys.

The new way just “looks” more American, more assertive – and no one needs to apologize for feeling good about it.