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Why you had to love this US team over the past 2 weeks:

1. Heart, Guts, and Strong Finishing

Yes, they had terrible starts to games, giving up 3 goals within the first 15 minutes of games. Yes, this was due to poor team defense and early mental lapses. But you have to understand, in past world cups, the US would never come from behind. Usually, for them to win or tie, they had to get a few breaks, go up early, and then hang on for dear life. If they went down early or in the first half, mentally they would have a hard time getting back into it and didn’t have the talent anyway.  This US team fought back from 1st half deficits not once or twice but three times. Down 1-0 to England and Ghana, and down 2-0 to Slovenia, they came back to tie the games.

The Algeria game was the epitome of this. After having a good goal taken away in the first half, hitting the woodwork on another, and missing multiple other chances, the US and Algeria were tied at 0-0 late in the second half. The US were about to go home with England winning versus Slovenia. Watching this game with a few friends at a relatively packed sports bar (at 8am!), we thought it was over. We didn’t think they had any gas left in the tank and Algeria was playing hard. Then this happened:

Against Ghana, they were getting pounded the whole game by a much more physical team. They were down 1-0, coming off short rest from the grueling Algeria game, Dempsey was beat up, and they got owned in the first half by a team that seem to want it more. But one more time they came out fired up in the second half, Dempsey earned the equalizing penalty kick goal, and they had a shot to win it.

2. A True Team

This US team had maybe 3 world class players: Donovan, Dempsey, and Howard. Even Donovan and Dempsey have been borderline starters for teams in the English Premier League. These guys are definitely some of the best players the US have ever had but when you look at even a young team like Germany, they have at least 8 world class players. This US team had to win with fantastic chemistry, guts, and relying on their midfielders to finish off goals.

3. Donovan, Bradley, and Dempsey

Donovan showed much more assertiveness, nearly single-handed got them back in the Slovenia game, ended up with 3 goals, and played significantly better than World Cup 2006.

Dempsey lived up to his known creativity and aggressiveness coming in. He seemed to make things happen with every touch and he played a part in 3 goals, and another another worthy goal stolen from him.

Bradley was the revelation. All over the field, Michael Bradley helped control the midfield and start the attack. You’d really have say the US has at least 4 world class players with the way he played in this tournament. At only 22, he’ll be a key cog in the 2014 team for sure.

4. Finally coming through on expectations

People will say this team should have beaten Ghana and taken advantage of the maybe the easiest path to the semi-finals they might ever see, with no traditional world powers standing in their way. However, given the talent level, the poor team defense, the lack of a reliable striker, and the injuries that stripped this team of their depth, they actually met expectations. That is huge for the US because it seemed like every instance prior to this when they were favored or expected to move on, they couldn’t handle the expectations and failed. This team did not fail. This team came through. Yes, they could have gone farther but they came first in their group and then lost a hard fought battle to a solid team that had all of Africa behind them.

I’ll remember this US team for coming from behind, Donovan’s last minute goal, and for beating out England for first in the group stage.

We all want to start well, but the reality of sin means we all start poorly and under the weight of our sinfulness. Through the Cross and the grace of Jesus, we should aspire to emulate the fight and guts of this US team to finish strong and not give up.

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