… I’m not sure what was more chilling; my instant reaction to Landon Donovan’s goal this morning that went something like this:
“Hey! We scored! How will they make it not count this time!”
Or, the feeling hours later, scanning the Internet, watching YouTube videos of reactions to the goal in bars and at gatherings around the United States on this, the 13th day of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and the day that changed things for US soccer.
It’s not that the US hasn’t advanced to the knockout rounds of the World Cup. The memory of beating Mexico in the Round of 16 eight years ago isn’t that faded from my mind. There have long been talked about wins over England in 1950 and Colombia in 1994. Maybe because there haven’t been many US wins in World Cup history (today was the 7th), we have held on to them for, in some cases, many decades.
Somehow, Donovan’s goal has given US soccer more legitimacy and visibility than all of our success did to this point. Today’s Algeria is not the opponent that 1950 England is in all the old stories, and they aren’t 1994 Colombia or 2002 Mexico. Years from now, the fact Algeria was even on the field today probably will be little more than a footnote to history – as will Clint Dempsey’s disallowed goal, and even Maurice Edu’s overturned score in the Slovenia match.
In one instant, as the commercial says, the non-believers (most of them) were converted into the faithful. Donovan did much more than simply score a goal that advanced the United States into the last 16. He did it in the moment. With more of the country watching than the audience soccer would normally draw, and those “casual fans” or “new fans” on the brink of thinking – “just what I thought, 0-0, and I can go back to not caring,” Donovan stepped into the spotlight, kept hustling, and as a result, found himself with the golden opportunity. It didn’t fall to a fringe player, it didn’t fall to a lead-footed defender joining the attack.
It fell to The Man. And The Man delivered.
In an instant, everyone – the hardcores, the casual fans, the new fans, and those who simply watch every four years to root for their country – combusted in a thrilling ecstasy that I don’t even remember in my lifetime from those prior conquests over Colombia and Mexico. The nature of the goal coming at the death, and the fact that it was the player who is supposed to stand and deliver, and the promise it now holds for how far this team can go, combined to make it potentially the biggest single moment in US soccer history.
The US is more than just a team that advanced to the last 16 now. First, they WON a group at the World Cup – something that had only occurred in 1930. They won a group with England in it – something few people expected (EASY, huh, England?). Many expected the US to advance, but no one envisioned the crazy, nerve-filled journey required for these Cardi-Yanks to reach Saturday’s knockout match vs. Ghana (2:30 p.m. Eastern). Where many of us watch the US hoping for the best, and constantly critiquing all of our players’ every move for better or worse, a whole nation of folks watched today simply praying for a goal, and when it came, the feeling of elation from hardcores and newbies alike was combined with a stunning sense of relief.
Only time will tell us how much the pendulum swung today. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be writing that tonight. I wrote last night that no matter the result, we weren’t staring at some sort of seminal day for US soccer.
But given what occurred, given how it occurred, I’m pretty sure I was wrong. Donovan launched US soccer to a new plateau in some ways, and the charge is now on the Federation and everyone involved with this great sport to captialize going forward. This is something players like Donovan and Dempsey and Tim Howard have no control over. They can just play. And we love this team because we know they’ll do just that until they’ve left everything on the field.
We don’t know where this road ends. The whole trip could have been cut short seconds before Donovan’s goal, had Howard not saved an Algerian header that would have put advancement clearly out of reach. Instead, Donovan reaches hero status, and we all try to speed through the rest of this week to see what Saturday holds – the hardcores, the casuals, the newbies, just about all of us, all on a journey together.
I never quite imagined that. But I never could have imagined what occurred today. The final destination of this voyage is a mystery, but I for one can’t wait to get there.
* Oh yeah, England beat Slovenia, 1-0, to advance as runner-up in Group C. They play Germany Sunday, who won Group D with a 1-0 win over Ghana. Uruguay meets South Korea in the other game Saturday, while Argentina-Mexico collide Sunday. Why yes, if we can still take in more after whatever happens Saturday, Sunday’s doubleheader, for the Round of 16, is really something else.
Paraguay 2-1 New Zealand
Italy 1-0 Slovakia
Denmark 2-1 Japan
Holland 2-0 Cameroon
Today’s Record: 4-0.
Tournament Record: 21-19.