The US: A Change In Course
I was planning on going to D.C. for the US National Team and Crew doubleheader this week. It was going to be my long soccer doubleheader week, but projects and finances kept me from getting out East. I wonder how things would have looked different having a front row seat to the turmoil in the nations capital.
The United States came off a tremendous win in Honduras to qualify for the World Cup over the weekend. Wednesday’s essentially meaningless final qualifier against Costa Rica would serve as a celebration of the team’s accomplishment. Bob Bradley was going to go for the win and play the starters, but qualification didn’t hang in the balance. In essence, the pressure was off. Unfortunately, the celebratory mood came to an abrupt end.
This first bit of bad news came on Tuesday with the first reports of Charlie Davies hospitalized in a fatal accident. Five hours of surgery later, Davies would survive, but broke several bones and suffered extensive internal injuries. It way to early to have any expectation of his recovery, but his return to the soccer field is at least several months away. First and foremost is getting healthy enough to lead a normal life.
The next day, an obviously stunned National Team took on Costa Rica in the previously meaningless last qualifier. They stumbled to halftime, dropping 2 goals to the hungry Ticos; they looked like a team overcome by the events of the previous day. The only highlight for the Americans came from the stands. The supporters groups led a touching tribute as everyone held up paper number 9’s and chanted Davies name in the 9th minute.
It was only after halftime that the US came out with the fire of a team trying to make a statement. Altidore, playing for his injured friend, was a beast at forward. The Crew’s Robbie Rogers made an instant impact when he entered the game midway through the second half. Donovan looked like the leader he has become this year. Michael Bradley slammed home a rebound to cut the lead in half midway through the half.
The last 10 minutes of the game would be a microcosm of the team’s experience in D.C.; first Onyewu would go down with what is later determined a torn tendon in his knee, reducing the team to 10 men. The comeback seemingly falling short, perennial whipping boy (I wasn’t a fan either) Jonathan Bornstein headed home a goal of legends in the 5th minute of stoppage time to seal the tie. To steal a phrase from an old Harvard-Yale game, the United States won 2-2.
Now 24 hours later the full impact on the American soccer community is finally coming clear. The response to Davies injury was truly immense. The internet enabled soccer community in this country tracked the news as it happened and pulled together a tremendous show of support.
On the field, the impact will be immense. Davies was a spark for the American offense. No forward has his speed to get past the defense. Even more of the load is now on Donovan, Dempsey, and Altidore to produce. Onyewu is now out for up to 6 months. That puts his return in the March-April timeframe, just before the World Cup. Gooch will have to return to match fitness quickly. The US will certainly feel their losses on the field.
I had a sense that the new generation had a chance to do something spectacular. With forwards like Davies and a maturing Altidore, the veterans like Donovan and Dempsey wouldn’t have to carry the entire load on offense. The defense relied on the strong presence of Onyewu. Now they will have to rely on an aging Bocanegra paired with an untested central defender and the outside backs of the day. Some of that bright promise of the future has had some of the shine taken off. This is a much different looking team leaving DC than the one that arrived on Sunday.