How the U.S. Got Its Mojo Back

Geoff Cameron made a horrible mistake early, but a simple tackle on Ronaldo sent a message

The U.S. team showed incredible mental toughness in its 2–2 draw against Portugal on Sunday. Geoff Cameron’s tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo just before halftime was a perfect example.

It seems crazy to talk about the importance of a minor tackle in a game with four goals. But this could have been a very different game if Cameron and the Americans hadn’t bounced back from his early mistake. Wether it was caused by a lapse in concentration, poor technique, or, as I suspect, a bad bounce on a bad surface, Cameron was at fault for Portugal’s first goal.

 

When you make a mistake like that, you lose confidence. You begin to feel shaky, to shy away from the action. You worry more about not messing up again than making a positive impact. Or maybe you work so hard to make up for your mistake that you mess up again. The whole thing could have collapsed for Cameron and the U.S. team.

 

Twenty-five minutes after the goal, Cameron barrelled into Ronaldo’s back and took his legs out in authoritative fashion. Yes, he fouled him, and he probably should have received a yellow card. And watching the replays, you can tell it was intentional—he had to make a concerted effort in order to put his body on Ronaldo. The play was bad for five seconds, but had a positive impact for the next 60 minutes. It made a statement.

 

I want to differentiate between a foul made out of desperation and one that is intended to send a message. If a player backs out of a tackle, it lowers a team’s energy. If a guy puts his head down after a bad pass, everyone feels deflated. But when a player makes a firm challenge, it lifts his teammates’ a little bit. In this case, Cameron was sending a message to Ronaldo, his own U.S. teammates, and himself: I’m still here.

 

The United States showed resilience and grit in the first two games. Grit feeds on itself. It doesn’t come out of thin air. It builds on small actions, plays like Cameron’s. Slowly, play by play, though, the Americans reaffirmed their standing in the game.
The final step was Cameron taking out Ronaldo. It was a meaningless tackle in the middle of the field, but it made a statement. Grit begets grit. Cameron made a crucial mistake early, then with helped lift the team again. In the end, the U.S. got a huge point after being down a goal at halftime. The U.S. made several key, inspiring plays, but none conveyed more meaning than Cameron’s tackle.

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