Evidence of the U.S. national soccer team's newfound respect was on display Sunday in the semifinals of the Confederation Cup at Azteca Stadium. For the first time in the tournament, the fans in attendance did not jeer the U.S. national anthem -- even the most diehard Mexican fan realized that the United States was a legitimate threat.
Despite losing two close games to Brazil and Mexico, four players have solidified or enhanced their reputations at the Confederations Cup: defenders Jeff Agoos, Frankie Hejduk and Gregg Berhalter and midfielder John Harkes. Agoos, of D.C. United, has been the only member of the team to play every minute of all four games, transforming himself from a mistake-prone defender into a solid one.
Hejduk, whose play often appeared unfocused, has demonstrated tenacity and a high energy level. And Berhalter, who had been a fringe player, showed that he had the muscle and stamina to go the distance; if he is not a starting candidate, then he is clearly the most credible defensive backup the team has had recently.
Harkes, who made his return to the team after being dropped from the 1998 World Cup team, has steered the team ably.
"This is a team that now plays with confidence," MLS Commissioner Doug Logan said. "They never had that before."
Under the new leadership of former United coach Bruce Arena, the United States is 6-3-1 against international opponents this year.
Arena's team will finish the Confederations Cup Tuesday against a dangerous Saudi Arabian team in the third-place game in Guadalajara. Although the Saudis lost 8-2 to Brazil in the other semifinal Sunday, they are dangerous on the attack.