Photo by ISIphotos.com
While most U.S. national team fans were watching Sunday's Confederations Cup final between the United States and Brazil at sports bars or in their own homes, there were a few American soccer fans who had the chance to take in the U.S. team's dream tournament run and Sunday's final from the land of Jogo Bonito, Brazil.
Long-time SBI reader and Colorado youth soccer coach Lance Williams was one of those fans. He has spent the past two weeks in Brazil and has been able to see the U.S. team's Confederations Cup run from a unique perspective.
Here is his story.
By LANCE WILLIAMS
As a people, Brazilians are wonderfully accepting and joyful. They seem sincerely interested in our opinion of our team’s play and patiently listen as one might a child who thinks they have just discovered the world is round when we have known it for years.
I have been in Brazil the past ten days as a member of Partners for the Americas Coaching Coaches program. President Kennedy inspired the creation of Partners in 1963 and since then cultural exchanges have linked the hearts and minds of the Americas on topics ranging from agriculture to medicine and now soccer. We have spent much of our time visiting schools, soccer clubs and recreation centers. Along the way our hosts have repeatedly asked us about the results our team has posted in the Confederation Cup.
For Brazilians, our loss to Italy was a forgone conclusion and the resulting 3-0 loss to Brazil was met with near apologetic casual questions. When we routed Egypt, we were happily met with playful congratulations and the universal thumbs up. The result against Spain gave us credibility that bordered on real respect.
To say that Brazilians were concerned that their team could lose the final would be a gross overstatement, but the questions became more serious and the listeners more sincere. We spent the morning of the match at the famous Inhotim Museum of Art and had to race back to Betchim to find a television in time. The streets that usually teemed with activity were eerily empty as all of Brazil prepared for yet another World Championship Final.
We settled in with our Brazilian friends and enjoyed watching our team do a very good job of keeping their shape defensively. If no other lesson is learned from this tournament I personally hope that we will continue to see our team defend with such elegance.
In the 10th minute we are rewarded with a miracle and our Brazilian fans cheer with us as we wave the American flag and dance in front of the TV. Our team is defending well and keeping some possession the subsequent counter-attacking goal at the 27 minute mark has us on our feet again. We dance, we sing and we believe. The cheering from our Brazilian counterparts is less enthusiastic but polite.
Now we start to worry. There is just too much time on the clock and Brazil is finding ways to put the ball behind our defense. One minute into the second half and now we have a game. The score line is 2-1 and the nail biting begins. Funny enough there is more tension for our Brazilian friends as well and the room gets quieter. Not nearly as much friendly chatter and the flag waiving is at a minimum.
My greatest worry every time I watch our team is that they will lose focus for moments of the match and get punished. Although our organization has improved leaps and bounds; even though Spector and Demerit are revelations, even though our central midfielders are tackling back like banshees, it’s all a matter of time. 74 minutes in Fabiano earns that big contract and breaks my heart. Hope has left the room. We try to cheer as politely as our Brazilian friends and soldier on, but it’s just not as much fun.
Then, it is almost predictable. Kaka will have his moment. He cannot be held back unless it is in the very literal sense. Spector lets him sweep by and the corner is earned. Elano to Lucio, back of the net, game over. Lucio certainly deserved this moment and sadly we share it. Although we put on a brave face and encourage our team to go forward this is Brazil at it’s best. Passing, moving, possession and poetry, in our hearts we know it is done. Time has run out.
We watched the awards presentation and envied the unity the Brazilians show. They define passion. Having watched the Brazilian children play on the fields that are central to each small town I know where this passion is born. Having attended Cruzerio’s match at Mineirao Stadium last night I know where it is refined. Having listened to the Brazilian people playfully argue whose pro team is best I know where it is nurtured. This passion is what allows a team to overcome a 2-0 halftime deficit. This passion is what allows a team to win World Championships.
Dunga’s team is impressive and yet so is our progress. The questions tomorrow will be different and I look forward to them. We stood toe to toe with the best in the world and showed we belong. Tomorrow will not be about what we have accomplished so much as what we have learned.
I played club ball growing up and a good level in college. I rounded out my competitive career in what we gratuitously called “semi-pro” before the conception of MLS re-defined American Soccer’s pecking order. I am a USSF “A” licensed coach and former State Director of Coaching. I have earned both undergrad and graduate degrees in Sport; soccer is no mystery to me, but having spent ten days in the country that “perfected” the game I can humbly say I have not mastered it. In that perspective I am the poster child of US Soccer. We have come a long, long way but the journey is yet young.