October 15, 2009
By Michael Lewis
U.S. can't keep pulling off comebacks in World Cup
On one hand, it is quite encouraging that the U.S. can keep coming back and accrue points during its CONCACAF World Cup qualifying matches.
On the other hand, trying to put this type of strategy off in the World Cup itself on a consistent basis is next to impossible.
The Americans' thrilling 2-2 draw with Costa Rica at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. was punctuated with one of the most classic comebacks in U.S. Soccer history. Trailing the Costa Ricans 2-0 in the second half, the U.S. rallied, equalizing in the fifth (and originally the final minute) of stoppage time.
It was the fifth time in 10 final round qualifiers the U.S. had comeback and fourth time in its last six games.
The win, err, I mean tie (it sure felt like a win, didn't it?) thwarted Costa Rica's attempts to secure an automatic qualification to South Africa next year. The Central America side must play Uruguay in a total games, home-and-home series in November to qualify.
The victory, err, I mean draw also meant the U.S. hasn't lost a home qualifier since Sept. 1, 2001. The Americans have lost only twice at home in 24 years.
Now it's time to look ahead to South Africa and realize the opposition will be much more difficult. There will be at least one European and/or South American team in the U.S. group and that will make it much more difficult.
And, you only have to look at how teams have fared at the previous World Cups.
While I don't have exact figures on comebacks, yours truly has researched the importance of scoring first.
Teams that have scored first through the 2002 World Cup have registered a 418-87-97 mark, which is a healthy 77.4 percent winning percentage, or just about four out of five games.
When a team scores first, it can begin to dictate a match. As the opposition gets antsy and starts to push up, the team with the lead has the option to counterattack and add to its total. It certainly doesn't happen that way all of the team, but it is a familiar scenario.
I doubt any team can achieve success in the World Cup by coming back all the time, especially when the opposition becomes much more difficult in the knockout stages.
A couple of things
Hmmm. I wonder if Honduras is going to nominate either Bradley or Jonathan Bornstein -- he scored the equalizer -- for the Nobel Peace Prize next year?
And one last thing. One reason why the U.S. did not lose a home qualifier was because I was not there. I have been to the last two qualifying defeats -- 1-0 to Costa Rica in Torrance, Calif. May 31, 1985 and at the 3-2 defeat to Honduras at RFK in 2001.