One year ago this week, I experienced one of the most emotional moments of my life. I’m pretty sure that Bob Bradley and Landon Donovan would tell you the same thing.
After pushing and toiling for 90 straight minutes but always coming up just short, the United States was on the verge of seeing its 2010 World Cup run end in a scoreless draw with Algeria. England and Slovenia would be advancing to the next round, and the U.S. would not. For the last four years, the players and coaches had worked so hard for this opportunity. All of the practice and preparation was about to come to an end. So was Bradley’s international coaching career.
If you don’t know what happened next, then you clearly weren’t at the Pour House in D.C. like I was. Or any other sports bar across the country for that matter. Donovan scored the game-winning goal and the packed bar erupted. High fives were as prevalent as spilled beer and renewed hope. Chants of "USA! USA!" rang out and the celebration was on. Grown ass men who had never before met were now exchanging bear hugs with tears in their eyes.
The U.S. had advanced out of its group, and even though the team would lose a tightly-contested match to Ghana in the following stage of the World Cup, that singular moment of joy will live on in our memories forever. That day, Donovan had done enough to save Bradley’s job as coach of the national team.
He may need to turn in an equally heroic effort this Sunday at RFK Stadium to save Bradley’s job once again.
Sunday’s quarterfinal match of the CONCACAF Gold Cup will be the most important match that the United States has played since South Africa. The U.S. will take on Jamaica at 3:00 PM at RFK Stadium.
Reaching the quarterfinals was not supposed to be difficult for the Americans. As the host nation of the biannual tournament and the team headlining what was widely considered to be the easiest group, the U.S. was one of the two favorites at the start of the Gold Cup, along with Mexico and its newfound prodigy Chicharito. Following a 2-0 win over Canada in the opener though, the U.S. surprisingly dropped a group stage game to Panama by a score of 2-1. For the first time in the 21-year history of the Gold Cup’s current format, the U.S. failed to win its group. And Tuesday's 1-0 win over the tiny island of Guadeloupe left a lot to be desired.
The fanbase is down on Bradley and the Americans for more reasons than just the disappointing loss to Panama. A 4-0 slaying at the hands of World Cup champions Spain earlier this month left a bad taste in our collective mouth. The U.S. is shipping goals to its opposition at an abnormally alarming rate, and Bradley continues to call in the same old familiar faces (Robbie Rogers , Freddy Adu ) while more promising and recently productive players (Brad Davis, Charlie Davies ) rack up statistics in MLS. Bradley is on the hot seat once again.
All that could change though with two or three more victories. The first one will have to come on Sunday against a feisty Jamaican side that took seven points from its Group B counterparts. The Reggae Boyz feel right at home playing in the U.S., since most of their top players already call MLS their home. New York Red Bulls winger Dane Richards , San Jose Earthquakes forward Ryan Johnson , Sporting Kansas City defender Shavar Thomas , and Los Angeles Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts are all important parts of the Jamaica roster, and all have made a difference in the Gold Cup this year.
With a win over Jamaica, the U.S. would advance to the Semifinal round and take on the winner of the Panama vs. El Salvador match, which is the second match of this Sunday’s double-header at RFK Stadium. For that win to happen though, the U.S. will need better performances all over the field. Clint Dempsey can’t waste his chances. Tim Ream and Clarence Goodson can’t allow soft goals. Donovan can’t disappear. These guys have all performed fantastically well for their club teams lately. Donovan is leading MLS in goals with eight and Dempsey just completed a dream season at Fulham, scoring 12 goals in 2010-11, which is the most ever by an American in the English Premier League.
This current U.S. National team reminds us nothing of the 2009 team that dropped three goals on Egypt, beat Spain 2-0, and was 20 minutes away from topping Brazil in the Confederations Cup Final. Even though many of the faces are the same, the players don’t have the same killer instinct as we saw back then. Maybe they can find it again though. The Americans have had their backs up against the wall before. This is nothing new to them. They may have to recapture some of that past magic to finish the Gold Cup on a high note
A victory over Jamaica won’t inspire quite the level of celebration that we experienced on June 23, 2010. Another miraculous finish from Donovan won’t guarantee Bradley’s job security for longer than a few more days. But it sure would be a nice start.