Thursday, October 15, 2009

Davies, Costa Rica .... and Bornstein!

My heart dropped Tuesday noontime when I heard about Charlie Davies' car accident. I spent the next few hours periodically scouring the internet for updates. Ultimately, Davies very lucky to have survived this single car accident that claimed the life of his friend. He was in the rear seat when the car hit a metal guard rail which sheared the car in half but he escaped with only a fractured right femur, tibia, right elbow, a lacerated bladder and facial fractures. They are not life or career threatening. It is curious that we don't know the identity or condition of the driver who was the 3rd person in the car. Something tells me that if this was the Yankees' Jorge Posada or the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware in this injury, we'd know way more just hours after the fact. Perhaps this is because the soccer media has more respect for privacy than the mainstream media?

Charlie Davies had just gone through his breakout year in the international soccer world. He had essentially filled the void that the US has had at the forward spot for years. This year, he played a huge role in the Confederations Cup, scoring the first of US' 3 huge goals vs Egypt. He also earned the US' first lead ever at Azteca with a beautiful early goal. Clearly Coach Bradley had begun starting him in all the important games in qualifying and his presence brought speed and a finishing touch to the frontline. Even against Honduras, he provided the assist on Conor Casey's first goal. Unfortunately, Davies' injuries will keep him from participating in the World Cup next summer. My hope is that this accident and his recovery will strengthen his resolve and train his mind to become an even better player for us in WC 2014.

Last night's game vs Costa Rica was an outpouring of emotion of every kind. The US fans had come to joyously celebrate US's qualification as well as show their somber support for Charlie. In the 9th minute, the fans memorably held up print outs of Charlie's number, 9. It was a good moment. The accident also provided motivation for the US players as several of them were noticeably emotional the whole night. Jozy Altidore played like a man possessed and was painfully upset every time he missed a goal-scoring opportunity. In the 9th minute, Jozy took the ball on the right wing and powerfully dribbled between 2 players and setup an easy ball for Casey. It would have been a fitting tribute to Charlie to score in the 9th minute, but just as it goes sometimes, Casey scuffed it skywards.

Costa Rica took advantage of the early lackadaisical central defensive play and Bryan Ruiz actually scored 2 goals within minutes of each other. The 2nd goal was a beautiful display of power and placement. It would have been a 3rd had Tim Howard not got his hands up in lightning quick time to redirect a point blank volley.

In terms of Concacaf's automatic qualifying spot, Costa Rica would qualify with a win or with a Honduras draw or loss. Honduras could qualify with a win and a CR draw or loss. So up 2 goals early, the Costa Ricans just had to hold onto the lead and they had booked their spot. I can only imagine how Honduras felt seeing that early scoreline and thinking that the US had let them down. The US also had something to play for: 1st place in the Concacaf. Being up 1 point over hated rivals Mexico, they only needed a win to secure that title. Mexico needed to win over last place Trinidad & Tobago and a US loss or draw to take it.

Now the worst case scenario was playing out in front of my eyes. Costa Rica, whom had embarrassingly waxed us 3-1 in Saprissa, was about to emphatically qualify on our home turf. Honduras, whose fans showed a certain respect missing from most central american countries on Sat, was about to lose out on the automatic qualifier. Mexico was surely going to beat the hapless T&T and win the group. And worst of all, the US would not be able to honor Charlie Davies with a letdown loss in the last game of qualifying.

The US had the lions share of possession and continued to attack, wave after wave. However, they could not break through in the first half and had several squandered chances that the in-the-zone CR goalkeeper was able to somehow stop. Costa Rica bunkered down even more in the 2nd half while the US actually played beautiful possession soccer. But I was just yelling at every missed cross and venting in frustration at every mis-hit shot. Torres finally saw the field again in what I would consider meaningful minutes when he entered in the 63rd minute. It is fitting that he gets a chance to play again after his first start in the disastrous game vs CR earlier in this qualifying round. His distribution and ability to keep the ball moving satiated my anger at some of the subpar midfield play mostly from Benny Feilhaber. Robbie Rogers also came on as a surge of energy to replace Stuart Holden in the 69th minute.

Both newcomers contributed to the attack immediately and it was no accident that the US pulled 1 back with Bradley's 74th minute put back. Landon actually pulled off a nice dummy move and squeezed a shot off through traffic which the keeper couldn't hold onto. Bradley was in the perfect place at the right time and luckily kicked it off the keeper for a goal. You could feel the momentum abruptly shifting. CR's confidence looked shot and they obviously played anxious soccer. They also began employing time wasting techniques, which was apparent when Gooch hurt his knee in the 83rd minute. The Costa Rican players began to frantically wave for medical help, more desirous of wanting to waste more time than out of concern for Gooch, I am sure of that. Unfortunately, Gooch has a torn patellar tendon which is supposed to rule him out for 3-4 months. As for the game, we had used all 3 subs so we were down to Even the CR coach was timewasting in his substitutions and was subsequently ejected by the referee.

So Mexico had somehow managed to only draw with T&T 2-2 and Honduras had done their job and won 1-0 vs El Sal. Basically, WE REALLY NEEDED TO SCORE.

By the time the 5 minutes of injury time hit, I was practically convulsing every time the attack got near the box. I will always remember the game tying goal from the beginning. With less than a minute left, Torres tracked a CR time waster back to our own corner and quickly and cleanly dispossessed him with a quick stab of his left leg. Torres immediately started a counter-attack and Donovan subsequently was able to launch a cross toward Jozy, which a CR defender escorted out for a US cornerkick.

With just 10 seconds left, Robbie Rogers' perfect cornerkick found the improbable charging Jonathan Bornstein for an emphatic header home. I tore off my t-shirt and threw it down. I can honestly say I've never done that before. The US players were besides themselves.

If you had asked me to guess who would've scored that goal, I would've guessed Bornstein last out of all the field players. So the players donned champion shirts and draped themselves in US flags and #9 tribute flags. Tim Howard even put on a cowboy hat while they danced on the field. The fans set off red-white-blue smoke bombs. On this night, a draw was just as good as a win. And the timing of it set off celebrations that an assured victory by halftime never would have. It was an emotional catharsis that I hope Charlie Davies enjoyed from his hospital bed. Get well Charlie.

Not only did the goal set off wild celebrations in the stadium, it created pandemonium as well as in Honduras. Pavon, the goat from missing that PK last game, redeemed himself and scored the only goal to send Honduras to their first World Cup in nearly 3 decades. Costa Rica now has to battle Uruguay for the 1 spot left for the Americas.

As for the US players performances, I thought that Jozy played out of his mind and Donovan was again the most effective attacking player. Casey did some things well but was nonexistent at other times. Cherundolo was a workhorse all night on the right side while Bornstein put in another strong defensive performance, regardless of that timeless goal. Gooch and Boca however were shaky and it will be interesting to see who gets the call in Gooch's absence. Sadley, Gooch had really progressed in his game this year and was a clear standout until his move to the AC Milan bench which seemed to result in indecisiveness on the pitch. The central midfield with Bradley and Feilhaber weren't all that effective until Torres entered into the game for Benny. Holden and Rogers seem to bring about the same positive qualities to the wings.

In the end, a game that seemed meaningless on Sunday took on the upmost importance by Wednesday. And it could not have turned out better.

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