Why Team USA’s Ugly World Cup Win Was Beautiful

Jurgen Klinsmann promised prettier play and delivered a win. We’ll take it.

Going into the World Cup, miles of column inches were devoted to whether or not Team USA was good enough to make it out of Group G, the so-called “Group of Death.” In their first match against Ghana, the Yanks didn’t so much prove doubters wrong as they proved them irrelevant. Asamoah Gyan and the Ghanaian side outplayed Jurgen Klinsmann’s boys, controlling the ball for 60 percent of them game while dictating pace with a probing offense, and it couldn’t have mattered less. Team USA conceded the game on the field and focused on the net. They won because they scored more goals. Call them “The Fighting Tautologies.”

When Jurgen Klinsmann first put on his U.S. Soccer polo, he promised that he would help build a team that played strong offense, moved the ball smartly, and challenged defenders. During the first game, the players – with the exception of Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, the predictable standouts – did none of those things. Klinsmann seemed neither surprised nor disappointed by this lack of development. “We push and push and grind it out,” he explained to a reporter after the clock wound down. There’s a German word for that sort of inconsistency: unaufrichtig. In America, we call it bullshitting.

Jurgen promised a lot before the game then injected a bit of honesty into the triumphant moment. Team USA might consist largely of Germans, but they never planned to play like them. They would lose horribly if they tried. The Krauts put down the Portuguese by being both relentlessly aggressive and relentlessly in control. After each desperate attempt to get Ronaldo the ball, Germany’s back line began moving up the field like the plunger in a hypodermic needle, building up the pressure until the ball shot forward. The U.S. has a perforated plunger. Damarcus Beasley is about as watertight as Dear Liza’s bucket and if Geoff Cameron, steadfast as he is in the box, sees Cristiano coming for him, he may take an involuntary leak.

The Yanks should stick to their actual game plan against Portugal, rattling the opposition with counterattacks, runs from Bradley and Dempsey, and cracks about their country being so broke it’s indebted to Angola. If Raul Meireles wants to control the ball in the middle of the field (or flip off the refs), so be it. The Portuguese won’t be able to push the athletic Americans around and Ronaldo is going to need a clean strike to get past Tim Howard. The game is going to get chippy and that’s just fine. Physical plays don’t interrupt the American flow because there is no American flow. Opportunism is damn effective amid chaos.

America will eventually field a squad capable of both beating and outplaying opponents, but there’s no sense in waving a “Mission Accomplished” banner just yet. The US’s strategy may be less sophisticated than the beer-soaked crowd bumping along in star-spangled bandwagon, but Ghana is in the rearview and there’s no reason to shift gears. The Yanks should let the commentators care about “quality” and stay laser focused on quantity. The thing about a goal-centric strategy is that when it works, it works.

Photos by Luis Siu Wai/Xinhua/Landov