How many times do we have to compare a major upset in sports to the Miracle on Ice before we realize that nothing, NOTHING, will ever be able to top USA 4, USSR 3? The latest violation of this rule occurred last week in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup when the United States Soccer Team stunned a Spain team that had not lost in its previous 35 games.
The victory was a remarkable one for Team USA, who needed all kinds of luck just to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament. Only two weeks ago, it looked as though head coach Bob Bradley was about to lose his job when his team was embarrassed in consecutive matches by Italy and Brazil. But the US, after manhandling Egypt and getting help from the Brazilians, managed to sneak past the first stage and into the semifinals, where it pulled off the incredible upset over one of the world’s best teams.
There is no question the story sounds a bit similar to Lake Placid in 1980; what with all the good fortune needed simply to advance to the next round and a team playing well over its head to shock the world. But that’s about where it ends and that’s why we need to keep our eye on the ball.
The Miracle on Ice occurred at the Olympics and the US soccer team’s victory happened at the Confederations Cup, a tournament that consisted of just eight teams, most of whom will not be a factor at the World Cup next summer. One is a tradition that dates back (in some form) for centuries and the other, well, even Google considers vague.
I realize that I’m probably coming off as your typical, cranky old sports columnist who refuses to acknowledge that recent great moments in sports could actually trump those from a bygone era. But that’s not the case at all. In fact, I was born six years after Lake Placid. I just recognize that, considering the state of the world in 1980, a victory over the Soviets at the Olympics meant a lot more than a win in some irrelevant soccer tournament.
I also realize that sports fans tend to embellish what a win actually means, and by no means am I trying to argue that Mike Eruzione had anything to do with the fall of Communism, but the Miracle on Ice was bigger than just sports. The USSR was considered evil; If Iran or North Korea had the world’s best soccer teams and we defeated them, then the comparison would be a little more valid.
Nearly 30 years later, it’s hard to envision anything, much less a win over a country we really like, ever matching what happened on February 22, 1980. That was about rivalry with a legitimate enemy. This was a tune-up for next summer against a country we like to vacation in.
And for the record, Team USA hockey finished the job a few days later to win gold in 1980. Team USA soccer just went back to being Team USA soccer.