Sunday, June 28, 2009

The greatest (U.S.) goal ever?

The setting: the 2009 Confederations Cup, the every-four-years warm-up tournament which is held by the host country for the upcoming World Cup to practice and refine their processes and protocols in anticipation of the following year's World Cup matches. Next year's world cup will be held in South Africa.

It's a small tournament, just eight teams, including the host country, but it has attracted the best players in the world: Brazil, Spain, and Italy are all participating. Early in the tournament, the US team have lost badly to both Italy and Brazil, but following an improbable series of events, the US find themselves suddenly in a match with Spain, which they win in an entirely unexpected fashion, and advance to the final match, a re-match versus Brazil.

Midway through the first half, the action is down by the US goal. The US are ahead by a goal, and Brazil are pressing their attack ferociously. Everyone has retreated far to the US side, and even the Brazilian defensemen are three quarters of the way down the field.

Suddenly the ball pops loose in front of the box, and an alert midfielder sends the ball to US superstar Landon Donovan, who finds himself with the ball, but 80 yards from the Brazilian goal.

Donovan takes the ball and begins racing up the center of the field as fast as he can. Quickly and efficiently, the two Brazil defenders move toward him, poised to reclaim the ball. But just instants before they converge, Donovan sends the ball out to the wing, where Charlie Davies is streaking down the left side.

The pass is a bit strong, and is out ahead of Davies, and it looks for a second like the play is over. But Davies lunges with all his might, and is able to reach the ball and send it back into the center of the field, where Donovan, who hasn't paused at all, is still streaking forward toward the goal.

Donovan catches the ball with his right foot and shifts his weight to the left side, somehow keeping his feet as the Brazilian defender falls to the grass.

Then Donovan steps once to the left to reach the ball, and sends a left-footed blast just past the diving feet of the Brazilian goalie and into the far corner of the net.

It's all over in 9 or 10 seconds, but it bears watching a few times if you haven't seen it yet. There's a second clip which is shot from overhead which is a great alternate perspective; fast-forward to around 1:50 in the second video to see the Donovan goal.

The US still have a long ways to go to compete at the very highest level of soccer, but I hope that this goal will be remembered for a long, long time: "do you remember Donovan's brilliant run at the 2009 Confederations Cup, and how he sliced through the Brazilian defense like a saber?"

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