They slipped, they stumbled, and they fell. They were relentless. Not once during this match did any USA player quit, no matter how ugly and disheartening the soccer was.
As USA supporters, we had seen this all too many times before. Most recently, the last time Bob’s boys took the pitch in Europe, against Sweden. This fixture, much like the Sweden friendly, presented an encounter with much intuitiveness but little ingenuity. In the case of the Sweden friendly, that spell was broken by a Swedish strike from outside the eighteen that burnt the back of the net. At one point today it would not have surprised me to have seen something similar from the Swiss, and another loss tallied on to Bob Bradley’s once impeccable record.
But as the players left the pitch it all seemed right, like this was the way it was supposed to happen. It didn’t always ring so clear in mine and many USA supporters’ heads. The clock hit seventy, then seventy-one (where are the subs!?!), seventy-two (where is Freddy!?!), seventy-three (anybody?!), seventy-four (What is Bob doing!?!), seventy-five (where is Freddy!?!), seventy-six (Freddy!), seventy-seven…exhale.
He had been released from the clutches of the touch-line warm-ups he seemed to be conducting for hours when Bob called to him from his astute position stalking the midfield line. Bob seemed to be reciting a speech that would have been saved for a father sending his son off to college. Freddy looked Bob in the eye, never once blinking. They shared a final laugh, sealed it with a handshake, and the time had finally come.
On one hand, it is pretty sad that this height of anticipation was what was probably running through the head of every USMNT fan watching this game. But when he made that first touch, all of the anxiousness and hope seemed warranted. One inventive back heel as his first international touch in years and the race was on. From there he seemed to raise his teammate’s energy level, pushing the game to a fever pitch it seemed it would never sniff. The combination of speed, effort, and skill he possessed was exactly why he was entered into the game, all be it too late for my liking. But it doesn’t matter now.
He wasn’t the only one. In comes another one of the United State’s storied youth product who was a bust before he got out of his highchair. It’s funny how these flops seem to land the best European deals. Szetela makes a few clean touches, then sends in a laser of a cross that a mish-mosh of Clint Dempsey and fellow U-20 standout Michael Bradley latch onto to give the United States their first win on European soil in practically forever.
Thinking back, the 180 degree reversal the game took when the first youngster, Adu, was entered into the game was remarkable. An absolute snooze fest in which as a viewer and supporter I am certain to bash Bob Bradley for waiting to long to bring on some speed and energy from the bench. It looked to be another loss and not only that, an overall disappointment from a viewing prospective because of the lack of time some of these protégés received.
Then all of a sudden, Michael Bradley, Freddy Adu, and Danny Szetela are entangled in an embrace representing possibly one of the most important victories the United States has had in the past couple years.
In thirteen minutes, the camp as a whole went from a failure to one of many turning points to come on the road to South Africa 2010.
Thirteen minutes is all it took to prove that results are everything. The youth movement has begun.
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