The United States on Sunday barely lost, 3-2, to legendary Brazil in soccer.
It came in a relatively inconsequential tournament in South Africa. But a soccer-crazy planet was surely stunned after a first half in which the low-rated U.S. was winning, 2-0. And it was all the more telling since we'd reached Sunday's tournament final by stunning the current best team in the world, Spain.
If you don't know soccer, and maybe don't really care a whole lot, our beating both Spain and Brazil would be a surprise akin to Ron Paul winning the Republican presidential nomination last year. Or Rahm Emanuel being named new boss of the Mormon Church. Or the White House putting some guy from the nearest Jiffy Lube in charge of General Motors Corp.
As for it being akin to 18-handicap me topping Woods, that's imprecise and even strained. Indeed, what Sunday underscored is the vagaries of team play. In many sports, the best team doesn't necessarily win on a given day. The team with the best players can be upended by lesser opponents who might, for an hour or two, exhibit more cohesion and desire and, perhaps, be helped by some luck.
The Americans do not have a single player who could start for Brazil or Spain, with the very possible exception of our goalie. Indeed, we probably don't have a player who could start for any of the top 30 or so club teams in the world.
But on Sunday we labored hard and scored a somewhat lucky initial goal when one of our guys perfectly redirected a pass into the far corner of the Brazilian goal. He could probably try that 50 times and not do it again. A second goal, by our best player, plucky Landon Donovan (who couldn't make it in the German league a few years back), was truly cool and impressive.
Could lightning strike twice in the second tournament?
At halftime, I called Cape Code to discuss matters with my college soccer coach, Peter Gooding, the retired Amherst College soccer coach and athletic director. He warned me that the Brazilians would come storming out in the second half and we'd best beware. While we were on the phone, a minute into the second half, Brazil scored.
They proceeded to overwhelm us with superior technical skill and creativity. They not only tied the game quickly but got screwed out of a third goal in a sport without our beloved instant replay. Then, they scored the winner, all the while showing their characteristic panache and artistry.
When they're on, Brazil is like Michael Jackson's "Moon Walk on grass.
We're skilled mechanics. The Brazilians are great musicians. And we almost won.