Sunday, October 18, 2009

There's Nothing Wrong With Nationalism...

"... and if you ask me, I will say it is fine."

On Wednesday morning, my family was enjoying 85 degree weather and basking in sunshine on the beach in Clearwater. On Wednesday evening, I stood amongst the throngs of Sam's Army in a downpour of cold, continuous, unrelenting rain in 40 degree weather at RFK. Wouldn't have it any other way.

We sit on the opposite side of Barra Brava and for the first time that I can remember, no one sat down during the entire game. The atmosphere was fantastic and for a relatively disappointing turnout, the stadium did not feel empty.

I have developed an irrational dislike for Landon Donovan, but the hard rain on Wednesday night washed most of that away. Donovan's skills were fully on display in what were tough, nasty conditions. Down 2-0 after some lackadaisical play from the U.S. centerbacks (Onyewu and Bocanegra), Donovan showed extraordinary effort and heart on the wing. He tracked back when necessary, folded in to keep the Ticos' defense on its heels, and exhibited his great touch in turning past individual Costa Rican players. I certainly did not hop on the metro expecting to fall in love with LD, but 90+ minutes of watching him a few rows from the field and I am ready to admit the error of my ways. He was, far and away, the best player in the U.S.'s midfield.

And although Donovan was great and Robbie Rogers was a revelation as a substitute on the right wing and the late equalizer from Bornstein was euphoric, Jozy Altidore alone was worth the price of admission. Jozy is far more comfortable up top than I've ever seen him before and the confidence he plays with is now matched by transcendent skill. On one play in the first half, he picked up a pass, turned, beat the man marking him, slid from right to left, beat two more Costa Rican defenders and served the ball perfectly to Conor Casey (who clearly regressed to the mean after a breakout match in Honduras on Saturday). Altidore himself missed a couple of half chances, but when he starts to convert those opportunities, he will be one of the world's elite strikers. The most impressive thing about Altidore's performance was how he earned the multiple free kicks awarded during the match by refusing to go down easily when he was hacked at by Ticos' defenders in the early going. By keeping his balance and forcing his way into openings, Altidore -- by his actions -- demonstrated to the referee that he was not going to be looking for whistles. For the rest of the game, Jozy got the benefit of the doubt when he hit the turf. He is so big, so fast, and so skilled that he simply has to play. His short time in the EPL seems to have already borne fruit and, if Phil Brown has the courage to stick with Altidore, Hull City may stave off relegation this season.

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