Fútbol or Football?: Part 2

This was originally going to be part of a series of posts on From the Rumble Seat relating famous soccer games to storylines from recent-ish college football. However, it became a bit unwieldy to put together each piece, so an initial rough draft of part 2 lives on here. Enjoy.

USC vs Texas, 2005

Soccer equivalent: Manchester City vs Queen’s Park Rangers (English Premier League, 2012)
Reasoning: The championship and the call

Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush: 2011-12 QPR has nothing on 2005 USC’s claim to fame. In the annals of history, Rangers are but a speed-bump that City popped over en route to their first Premier League title in 44 years.

But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that in this final match had much more drama and intrigue than a mere bump in the road implies.

Let’s set the mood here: QPR is in danger of being relegated to the English Championship, pending a Bolton Wanderers victory over Stoke City. On the other side of the tunnel, after an eight-point comeback in the table down the back stretch of the season, now-first place Manchester City needs to match whatever result their cross-town rival Manchester United earns in their match at Sunderland to clinch the title on goal difference. Adding to the intrigue on this final matchday is that all four of these matches kick off at the same time (just like how MLB does its final day of the regular season). Here we go from the Etihad:

First, an update from Sunderland: DC United star (to be clear, DC is undoubtedly the club he is best known for) Wayne Rooney puts Manchester United ahead 1-0 20 minutes into the match.

But 18 painstaking minutes later back in Manchester, “(s)ilence turns to bedlam at Etihad Stadium” when Pablo Zavaleta opens the scoring for City with a sizzler that skims the outstretched hands of QPR goalkeeper Paddy Kenny. City are now back on top of the league on goal difference, and things are looking up for the blue half of Manchester as they head into halftime. But like Sky Sports reports after the match, City “struggle(s) to add a second (goal) to give them breathing space”. QPR takes full advantage of City’s foibles three minutes out of the break, knotting the game at one after a dreadful defensive mistake by City’s Joleon Lescott. The London club’s hopes of staying alive in the Premiership spike while City’s dreams of hoisting the league’s claret jug (yes, I know there’s an actual trophy called that, but this moniker works here too) begin to fade into a devilish shade of red.

However, this party is by no means over. In the 55th minute, QPR midfielder (and former City player) Joey Barton is shown a straight red card and ejected for, in what might be Wikipedia’s understatement of the century, “committ(ing) three separate red card-able incidents on three different players in the space of only a couple of seconds”. And thus, the tides once again turn in City’s favor — with a one-man advantage, they pummel the QPR defense with a fervor. But eleven minutes later, with nary to show for their offensive work, City are caught sleeping by QPR’s Jamie Mackie, who nails a header past City keeper Joe Hart’s far post. Now, with City losing and United holding off Sunderland pretty convincingly, the title is all but won for the red half of Manchester.

City turns up the heat in QPR’s half of the park, but Kenny is able to keep his side afloat as the match headed into stoppage time. With regulation time over and City pounding away at the QPR goal to no avail, referee Mike Dean adds five minutes of stoppage time — five minutes for City to find two goals to win the match and steal the title from right under their biggest rivals’ noses.

Edin Dzeko does the honors for goal number one (well, technically two in the game), heading home a cross past Kenny to tie the match, but it seems like too little, too late for City. By the 95th minute in Manchester, the score is still 2-2, and United’s match in Sunderland has concluded, with some United players celebrating their title victory on the field. QPR fans are ready to have their cake and eat it too, as news comes in that Bolton had drawn versus Stoke City, saving QPR from relegation.

But down on the pitch, where no one knows any of this information, Dean checks his watch and gifts City one last attacking chance to avoid their worst nightmare. As time ticks down in the final minute of play, City captain Vincent Kompany brings the ball past midfield off a header by current scapegoat Joleon Lescott. He passes it up to midfielder Sergio Aguero, and then:

Pandemonium. Let’s watch it again, but this time with an SBNation flair:

Aguero dumps the ball off to Mario Balotelli, who stretches his foot back out to flip the ball into some open space between QPR defenders right in Aguero’s path. Aguero takes one touch to get around a sliding QPR defender and then dribbles towards Paddy Kenny, who pulls himself all the way over to the right side of his goal to defend Aguero’s advance directly.

Aguero squares up and punches a shot towards the far post of Kenny’s goal.

Kenny finds himself overcommitted, and all he can do is flail as Aguero’s strike flashes by him.

Goal, Manchester City.

Goal, Sergio Aguero.

What was once a pit of despondence at Etihad Stadium has now turned into a frenzy of pure ecstasy in the span of two minutes as City wins their first league title in 44 years in a moment of pure magic. Back in Sunderland, Red Devil pride fades into stupefaction, as United has had the trophy stolen from right out of their hands and the horror of an entire offseason of an entirely new level of cross-town bragging rights begins to settle in.

I shouldn’t need to lay out the terms of the 2006 BCS National Championship / Rose Bowl too much, but let’s talk about Texas’s final two drives: with 6:42 left to play, Texas found itself on the wrong side of a 12-point margin in Pasadena. The 2005 USC squad on the other side of the field had won 34 straight and was lauded as one of the top football teams in history, not just in that season. If you had called this game for USC right here in towards the end of the fourth quarter, no one would have faulted you for it — it really looked like Texas’s steer was cooked.

And then Vince Young balled out.

A 17-yard Young touchdown on the ensuing drive brought the Longhorns within five, but left four minutes on the clock for USC to eat clock and answer. But USC’s Lendale White couldn’t convert a fourth-and-two at the Texas 45, and so Vince Young and his Longhorns were left with 2:09 to drive 55 yards for the lead, the Rose Bowl win, and the national title. This seems like a lot of time now, but think about offenses from 15 years ago (or, you know, Iowa now) — this was going to be a tight finish. Young willed the Longhorns down to the USC 9, but their effectiveness seemed to peter out there, forcing “fourth-and-five (with) the the national championship on the line right here”:

Young won a footrace to the end zone to put Texas up by one with 19 seconds left. USC burned their final timeout on the ensuring two-point try (which Texas converted) and three seconds on the kickoff, so star USC QB Matt Leinart had but 16 seconds left to avoid losing his second career game.

He got to the Texas 43 but no further. Despite the odds, Texas won the Rose Bowl and Vince Young became immortal in Longhorn lore.

Look, it’s folly to equate the circumstances of these games — their contexts are entirely different — but the endings (and the announcers’ calls!) are similarly indelible parts of sporting lore, and that’s something we can appreciate.

Appalachian State @ Michigan, 2007

Soccer equivalent: United States vs England (FIFA World Cup, 1950)
Reasoning: The upset

Prior to 2018 (sobs), the United States’ Men’s National Team (for soccer) hadn’t missed a World Cup since 1990 (for those counting at home, that’s seven in a row). But before 1990, soccer in the US was effectively in the dark ages. During the vast majority of the 1980s and 1990s, there was no top-level outdoor domestic soccer league in the US. The North American Soccer League had gotten the world’s attention by courting international stars like Pele and Franz Beckenbauer to play in the US, but the league had since burned right through its cash and folded. The sport was reviled (and somewhat still is in pockets of the country) for being un-American and a Communist foreign invention. Ties? Who needs them? Why do we have to be good at a sport others invented? Who cares?

Given this, it should really come as no surprise that before these “dark ages”, the US was actually not that bad at the more literal kind of football (irony’s a [B-52’s], ain’t it?). It had finished third in the first-ever World Cup (granted — at that point, it was a more of an invitational than a proper tournament since it lacked a qualification process), qualified for the Round of 16 in the second, and made its third appearance when the tournament returned after the Second World War in Brazil in 1950.

That latter part isn’t to say that the US did particularly well at the 1950 tournament. In fact, they puttered around mediocrely (some might say they still do so to this day, but I digress) and finished with a 1-0-2 record (we’ll circle back to that one win in a moment). American soccer leagues existed during the first half of the 20th century, but were poorly organized or centralized to certain areas. Most of the players on the American roster were semi-pros — one player even had to withdraw because he couldn’t get time off of work. The 1950 USMNT practiced together a grand-total of one time, and two weeks before the tournament started, they lost 1-0 to a barnstorming squad of English players touring Canada.

Speaking of the English: despite literally inventing the sport, England steadfastly refused previous invitations to join international competition, believing it beneath them to have to prove their soccer superiority on the pitch (and also the English FA had an ongoing dispute with FIFA about paying amateur players — sound familiar?). This ardent resolve softened after the war (and said dispute was resolved), and in 1950, they qualified for the World Cup via the 1948-49 British Home Championships. Off the English delegation went to Brazil, pegged as 3-1 favorites because — again — they literally invented the sport (and also because a combined Great Britain team had beaten a team of European all-stars 6-1 previously and England alone had a 23-3-4 record after the war).

On matchday one on June 25, England scored goals six minutes before and after halftime to trounce Chile at the Maracanã in Rio, while the US failed to hold a 1-0 lead over Spain, succumbing to a 3-1 loss as the Spanish gave no quarter in the final ten minutes.

And so, the stage was set for a June 29 clash in Belo Horizonte between the “Kings of Football” (their words, not mine) and a team whose own coach described them as “sheep ready to be slaughtered” — Goliath on the precipice of conquering the universe and the meek David who dared face it. Yikes.

The English opened the match with six shots on goal in the first twelve minutes, adding three more in minutes 30 through 32. In the same span, the US managed just one. The English continued to pepper American goalkeeper Frank Borghi (not to be confused with current Washington State running-back Max Borghi), but the part-time hearse driver from St. Louis stood firm.

The Americans broke through the English lines in the 37th minute: midfielder Walter Bahr fired a shot at the English goal from 25 yards out, but instead of the ball bouncing innocently into the arms of English goalkeeper Bert Williams, American forward Joe Gaetjens dove to put his head to it right at the penalty spot, glancing the ball past Williams (who had overcommitted to the right of his goal) and into the back of the net. 1-0, USA.

Just like in the Revolutionary War, the English fought valiantly — but alas, it was all for naught. Despite a frenetic second half that included a controversial foul call at the edge of the American penalty box, the US, who had entered the tournament with 500/1 odds to win it, held on to its one-goal advantage to dethrone the “Kings of Football”.

A summary of the context of the 2007 Michigan Wolverines and Appalachian State game was supposed to follow here, but in lieu of that, here’s the SportsCenter bit on the game: