Incredible game today, U.S. Soccer beat Spain 2-0 in the Confederations Cup semi-final. The play wasn’t as dominating as the final score – unlike other great games like the 2007 Gold Cup final against Mexico and the 2002 World Cup game against Germany – but just as euphoric.
So why do we suddenly show up at beat Spain after getting our asses handed to us by Brazil and Italy? All the columnists are writing about how we played with confidence and aggression to make the difference, but I want to float a theory that we won for two reasons:
We’re taller than Spain and Mexico’s forwards and we can beat any warm-weather team if it’s cold when the game starts.
The height thing makes the most sense. All our players are American, which means that they watch and probably played a lot more basketball than any other country. They’re athletes and probably played many sports when they were growing up, and height is valued in hoops, so they kept getting in more games and getting more fit, while at the same time their soccer skills were excelling.
Look at the heights of Spain’s best midis and forwards. Xavi, David Villa, Mata and Ferndando Torres are 5’7″, 5’9″, 5’7″ and 6’1″. So if a defender plays tight, there’s no way – regardless of how skilled they are – that they can win a header. Gooch is 6’5″, Bocanegra is 6′, DeMerit 6’1″ and Michael Bradley is 6’2″.
The numbers against Mexico – with the exception of Marquez, who is chronically injured – are just as noticeable.
So if the States can get a goal (or two) like they did today and sit back on defense. Yes, they’ll be under threat, and odds-wise, they’ll probably surrender a goal or two, but in terms of serving the ball into the box, those few inches go a long way (and, yes, that’s what she said).
Italy and Brazil are taller teams. I don’t think that this height advantage is given enough credit, but I can’t seem to think of a better explanation for why the U.S. can beat Spain by two and lose by three to both Italy and Brazil.
The other reasoning would be that the U.S. is simply a cold-weather team. Today’s game was barely above freezing when they started play. But even the North parts of Spain – like Bilbao – are still semi-tropical. The U.S. uses their crap-weather locations as distinct home field advantages when they play teams from the Caribbean.
The U.S. often plays World Cup qualifiers in Columbus, Ohio in February against Mexico when there are snow drifts and temperatures well below freezing. So why should it come to that much of a surprise when the game-time temperature in South Africa is under forty degrees and they have a strong game against Mediterranean Spain?
I don’t want to take anything away from the United States’ performance, but it seems as though with every other sport, commentators look for outside advantages that underdogs need to exploit. Do you really think South Africa would be in the semi’s if they didn’t have the homefield advantage? They wouldn’t be in the tournament if they weren’t even hosts. They can barely qualify for the African Cup of Nations, and they’re one of like three teams not torn apart by Civil War in their country.
So if the U.S. is playing in the cold against a team that relies on a lot of 5’7″, 5’8″, 5’9″ players, don’t overlook them