The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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Spain 0 – 2 United States: The Gift Outright

They didn’t play like green-eyed soldiers of beauty, but this wasn’t Chelsea taking tire irons to Barcelona, either. Especially in the first half, before the fatigue and stress started plinking their way up the keyboard, they had some attacking intent. I’d assumed the tactical thinking would be that the easiest way not to lose to the world’s best midfield would be to avoid the midfield entirely, but during the great 25-odd-minute spell leading up to Altidore’s goal, they somehow found space to exploit, kept possession, and actually dribbled at Spain rather than rainbowing rockets over them. In the second half, granted, the long-ball game turned up after all, but by that point the gods of the match had clearly decided that unbelievable pressure and mind-skewing last-ditch defending were going to carry the day. This wasn’t a fluke, in other words; every way the match turned, the US played their role and did what they had to do in it.

Tim Howard was a better goalkeeper than Iker Casillas tonight, not just because of deflections and chance. The near-post save on Fernando Torres’s heart-stopping point-blank shot just before halftime was probably as thrilling for Everton fans as for Americans. This might have been the best game I’ve ever seen Landon Donovan play, and he didn’t score a penalty, so that’s saying something. Jozy Altidore isn’t good enough to play for Xerez, but he just handed Spain their first loss since 2006. Unbelievable.

It probably means nothing; I hate to throw John Keats in at a moment like this (of course I don’t, really) but I was definitely doing a melancholy-in-the-temple-of-delight double-take when John Harkes couldn’t stop talking about fitness at the end, and then Alexi Lalas came on to attribute the win to “a good old-fashioned American game of soccer, just guys throwing their bodies around for each other” (or something to that effect). Really? We’ve just decisively beaten the best team in the world, and that’s as romantic as we get? It’s going to be back to obsessing over “guys who can play with their back to the goal and hold up the ball for the team” before dinner. But whatever; this happened, and sometimes a match that doesn’t decide a championship is as thrilling as a championship, and this game was an amazing thing to see.

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Spain 0 – 2 United States: The Gift Outright

by Brian Phillips · June 24, 2009

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