Three-hundred million citizens -- 300 million different opinions -- and the same number of individual likes and dislikes. But on Wednesday at about 11:45 a.m., the United States was united behind one flag and one team -- that team being the greatest advertisement for this country to the outside world.
Long before Landon Donovan latched onto that loose ball in the penalty area and deposited it in the back of the Algerian net, I was kicking and heading, demonstrably in a sparsely populated Boston area café, every ball for Bob Bradley’s boys.
The final half hour of the contest was excruciating for this particular fan, as I had seen another chapter of injustice about to unfold before my very eyes and had long since regretted a pre-tournament assertion that the US would not advance from group play at this year’s World Cup.
Slightly apprehensive before yesterday’s kickoff -- fearful that the Desert Foxes would catch the team on the break -- I was never so happy to be proven wrong. And when the shouts of joy rang out from the corner of the café, they came running, soccer cynics and know-nothings alike, to bathe in the moment.
It would be so easy to ridicule their collective betrayal of a particular stance on the sport, but let’s just rest for now in the knowledge that Wednesday’s last gasp goal by the LA Galaxy striker represents the biggest moment in US soccer history.
Kudos go to all in white in Wednesday’s contest. There were no shirkers as all of Bob Bradley’s players answered the call in the time of need. The US boys grew ten feet tall in stature and showed one or two European squads how it’s done -- the world of sporting endorsements is now theirs to inherit.
Former US international and Manchester City midfielder Claudio Reyna said after Wednesday’s euphoric victory: “It's amazing. You can see the lift it gives the sport. Every four years there's so much pressure to do something, and they were able to do it. It's a great achievement.”
His former international colleague, Tab Ramos, concurred:
“The popularity of soccer in this country has been growing slowly and steadily over the years, not just waiting for this event. But this is a world event, and games like today make soccer in this country just a little bit bigger. This U.S. team is very different, because when we get the ball to the middle of the field, we have three or four guys who can score. Offensively, no question, this is the best team we've had. We've come a long way. It's been a long time coming and it's nice to see.”
Indeed it must have been yet another epiphany for the likes of Reyna, Ramos and John Harkes who grew up with the millstone of public disapproval around their necks. Their time came when the United States defeated Colombia in 1994. Wednesday’s dramatic finale, if they’re honest, eclipsed that achievement.
And so it’s on to Saturday, when the biggest ever USA soccer game takes place -- USA vs. Ghana (live at 2:30pm on ABC). They get bigger and better as we go deeper into this tournament, and the players must know they’ve "arrived" if sports radio stations in their hometowns are talking about them for a change, and a former president (Clinton) brings hugs and high fives to their locker room, then rearranges his schedule to suit.
So, if you know one, don't be afraid to admit it. And if you are one of those critics who never took the time to really get to know soccer, but went along with the prevailing opinion anyway, don't be afraid to admit that you were just a little bit excited by Landon's last gasp goal on Wednesday.
Roll on Saturday. America is finally united behind its soccer team, and it's about time too.
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