Four years ago today, the US men's national team pulled off one of the biggest upsets in American soccer history, stunning Spain 2-0 in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup in South Africa. Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey each scored a goal for the US, who went on to build a similarly stunning lead against Brazil in the final before eventually wilting in the second half. Despite the final result, however, the win over Spain is still remembered as fondly as perhaps any other win for the US, and a seminal moment for any US fan who watched the game. We asked three of our staffers about their memories of that game, and we invite our readers to recall their stories in the comments section below.
Greg Lalas – Editor-in-Chief
I was in the stadium in Bloemfontein. It was a funny couple of days. I drove down from Johannesburg the day before and checked into the Hobbit Hotel. J.R.R. Tolkein was born in Bloemfontein, and the hotel was a tribute to him. I was in the "Arwen" room, though it didn't seem very elvish to me. There was a group of Spanish journalists who were also staying there. We all met in the lounge and had a few Windhoek Lagers the night before the game. The idea that Spain might lose to the US was well beyond the pale to them. It's an attitude I've come across a thousand times before, though I usually only remember it when the US then pulls off an upset.
The game was pretty amazing. The Spaniards – journos and players – seemed like they were on vacation. But when Altidore spun Puyol and slammed his shot past Casillas, the media gasped. I cheered. It was a great goal and it deserved applause. The Spanish press then went through what I like to call the Three Stages of Losing to the USA:
1) Shrug and feel supremely confident that your team will kick it up a notch, score the equalizer, then run away with it.
2) As the game goes on, start to complain about the field, the referee, the altitude, the travel, etc.
3) Scoff that no one really cares about the Confederations Cup.
The majority of that scoffing took place after the game at a random Cuban restaurant called Cubana Havana, where all the Americans and Spanish came together to drink a few more Windhoeks. The former drank to celebrate; the latter drank to pretend that they didn't care. Yep, it was a good night.
Jeff Bradley – Senior Writer
I wasn't really concerned about the conflict.
Yeah, the US were playing Spain in the semifinal of the Confederations Cup and, yeah, my brother was coaching and my nephew was playing, but honestly, it was Spain … and my son had a U-10 travel baseball game and I was the coach of the team. So, I'd watch the first half hour and DVR the rest for later.
I was upstairs getting ready for the baseball game when my wife and two sons screamed, "Jozy, goal!" And they were dancing around like the US had won already and my reaction was more like, "Yeah, great, that'll only tick Spain off more." So it was off to baseball with my Blackberry (pre iPhone era). As I coached third base, flashing the signs, waving runners home, I periodically checked for score updates. Still 1-0. Still 1-0. Still 1-0. Holy … 2-0!
I can't tell you what happened in the baseball game, but I can tell you I was still plenty nervous as I clicked refresh, refresh, refresh. And then there was a red card to my nephew Michael and my heart sank for him … but then the score was final and and I was telling dads who know nothing of soccer, "The US just beat the No. 1 team in the world!" When baseball was over, I rushed home to watch it … over and over and over.
Andrew Wiebe – Editor
They're the four words every soccer fan dreads during midday, must-see action: I had to work.
On the morning in question, I shot out a text warning my friends not to ruin it for me, fired up my DVR, shut down Twitter and holed up in my cubicle at a Kansas City-area wastewater company to complete various intern tasks centered around marketing poop pumps. Glamorous stuff, I know.
In what I considered a miracle at the time, no word came through and I settled in later that afternoon for what I assumed would be a lesson in tiki-taka from the not-yet World Champions. But then the US stood toe-to-toe, not giving an inch. My heart said "Maybe, just maybe," while my brain told me it couldn't possibly last.
Of course, that was about the time my roommate swaggered through my door and casually remarked on the US' historic win sparked by Jozy Altidore's turn-and-fire goal. A goal that literally came five minutes later. Adios, drama.
I didn't particularly care, though. I cheered like it was live. The US had done the seemingly impossible. And when it was all over, I pressed rewind and re-lived it again.