Philadelphia Daily News
The United States displayed the heart of a champion.
What is imperative now is that it continues to build the body of one.
There was no mystery to why Brazil rallied in the second half and beat the USA, 3-2, in the FIFA Confederations Cup final Sunday in Johannesburg, South Africa. Brazil simply had better players, and a lot more of them.
Heart can go a long way, but it almost always falls when confronted with overwhelming talent.
So, no, the Confederations Cup final was not the "arrival moment" generations of U.S. soccer fans had hoped it would be.
The truth of the matter is that it would not have been even if the Red, White and Blue had pulled a second consecutive stunner and defeated Brazil to win its first-ever FIFA tournament.
Winning the Confederations Cup would have been an outstanding achievement, but it would not have vaulted the United States into the ultra-elite of world soccer.
The performance was an amazing snapshot along the journey of progress for American soccer, nothing more. It was both a sign of the United States' potential and a reality check of how much work still needs to be done.
Yes, the United States reached the final, but it was by no means the second-best team in this eight-team tournament that featured FIFA's six confederation champions, plus World Cup champ Italy and 2010 World Cup host South Africa.
Brazil, Italy and Spain, which the Americans stunned, 2-0, in the semifinals, are still the USA's better on most given days. There are close to a dozen more nations worldwide that can say the same. The traditional powers are not quaking in their boots at the prospect of playing the United States -- but they will have a little more respect.
What the USA showed by reaching its first-ever final of a FIFA event is that it has a puncher's chance against anyone in any single game.
Get caught on the wrong day, like Spain did, and the United States is capable of dropping you like a sack of potatoes.
But punchers can't win a World Cup.
There are too many talent-laden technicians to overcome for heart alone to carry a nation all the way to a world championship.
The Confederations Cup is a short tournament. It only took the United States one upset victory out of pool play to advance to the final. This run was more about U.S. determination and grit than about U.S. soccer talent.
That will not be enough to win a 32-team World Cup.
If you advance out of pool play, you still must win three knockout games to reach the final.
Italy had to win elimination games against Australia, Ukraine, Germany and finally France to claim the 2006 World Cup. The United States does not yet have enough talent to run that kind of gauntlet.
This is not meant to downgrade the USA's performance. It was remarkable and, again, displayed the potential of the national program.
But the enormous gap in talent between Brazil and the United States is what was most notable about the Confederations Cup final.
Frankly, it was the most notable thing in the semifinal with Spain, which made the USA's upset all that more remarkable.
Brazil rallying for three goals in the second half didn't reveal anything the U.S. Soccer Federation didn't know. Talent wins, and the United States must keep producing more if it hopes to follow 90 outstanding minutes against Spain with 90 more extraordinary minutes against Brazil.
When Landon Donovan put the USA up, 2-0, in the 26th minute, the thought wasn't that America was in control, but whether it could hold on for 64 minutes against a relentless assault of superior firepower everyone knew was coming.
It was disappointing that the United States could not, but was not surprising.
Of the 11 American starters, only goalkeeper Tim Howard (Everton of the England's Premier League), Clint Dempsey (Fulham, Premier League), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United, Premier League), Carlos Bocanegra (Stade Rennes of France's Ligue 1) and Jozy Altidore (Villareal of Spain's La Liga) were under contract to teams in top-rated European leagues.
In contrast, Brazil had five starters from teams that qualified for the UEFA Champions League, the ultimate competition in worldwide professional soccer, and three more sitting on the bench.
Everything that needed to be said about the talent gap between Brazil and the USA was seen in the substitutions.
Brazil subbed in defender Danny Alves from 2009 Champions League winner FC Barcelona and midfielder Elano of Manchester City in the Premier League, while the United States brought in Sacha Kljestan and Jonathan Bornstein of Chivas USA in Major League Soccer.
Nothing against MLS, but the U.S. program will be at its best when it can field a team that is primarily comprised of the players performing professionally on the top teams in Europe.
When Americans are routinely playing for clubs like Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Panathinaikos, FC Porto and other Champions League qualifiers, U.S. soccer will be in a position to win FIFA tournaments, not just make a surprise run to a final.