World Cup is back, ladies and gentlemen, and with it comes the obligatory questions from news commentators far and wide asking if this is the tournament that will finally make Americans actively care about soccer as part of the zeitgeist. It won't be. It's not intended to be! It's an "Event." An exciting world event like the Olympics that is only supposed to be acknowledged and experienced every four years. That's what makes it special. We don't collectively pay attention to international football or national soccer leagues with the same intensity as Football or Baseball or Basketball or even Hockey (I still think the most recognized international year-round pro-sport in the US has to be tennis, because no matter where the tournaments are played the players are always associated with their country of origin). People in the US like soccer, but here it's soccer and everywhere else it's Football, and for me that kinda says it all. It's just different. Maybe it doesn't need a national league presence in order to be important to people, so that's why it's never really taken off that way Stateside.
Still every four years, it's exciting to pay attention to World Cup and hope that are underdog squad from the United States can make it far into the competition, even if winning the title is a total pipe dream. I know I'll be actively rooting for our home team as well as my adoptive home team, Spain. VIVA ESPAÑA! I even bought myself a jersey this year. I don't know if all my Greek and Italian neighbors will appreciate that, but most of them have been pretty quiet this weekend with Greece suffering an early first round loss.
A good example of this is yesterday's match with the United States vs. England. This was a highly-anticipated match. Most people liked to believe we could beat England but also wouldn't be surprised is we didn't beat England. This makes me think they really just WANTED us to beat England so that the US wouldn't immediately disengage from the proceedings, but weren't kidding themselves that on paper we'd probably lose. As it turns out, we tied. But we could've easily won. And we just as easily could've lost. Here's why!
We easily could've won if the US just figured out a way to hold itself together at the beginning of matches. We have some horrible statistic of getting scored on mad early in these events. I can't find it online, but they were talking about it during the game so you'll just have to trust me this time. In 2006 we got scored on in the 5th minute. This time we hadn't even been playing for four when England's Steven Gerrard broke through. It's a frustrating lack of form because then you could be playing catch up for almost the entire game. Our goalie, Tim Howard, made many incredible saves. So better form at the beginning would've provided him better support and put us in a better position to win. The whole really turned it up in the second half of the game and we should be able to do that from the beginning.
(How to have the most ridiculous goal scored on you in 4 quick steps. 1) Don't actually grab hold of the ball as it comes to you in front of the goal. 2) Watch in horror as it rolls by you. 3) Reach out for it in vain after it has already passed the goal line. 4) Curl up in a ball of shame as the ball sits in the back of the net. photo sequence by AP Photos/Michael Sohn. Nice work, Mike.)
We easily could've lost if not for the freak goal by Clint Dempsey of the US against Robert Green of England to tie the game. The ball just bounced off Green's hands and dribbled into the goal. It was the oddest thing. I mean, a goal is a goal. It doesn't have to pretty to count on the scoreboard, but of all the shots on net in the game, for that to be the one to go in was rather incredible. If Green had kept his hands on it, we'd have been down 1-0, and that would've been the game. Poor Robert Green. I'm sure the British Tabloids are tearing him a new one this morning. I hope he gets a chance to redeem himself later this tournament. That was a toughie.
So in the end, we got a bit lucky. A tie seems to be a fitting outcome for a game where both sides battled hard and had one slip up each. And a tie is almost like a win. We'll treat it as such here at home. Hopefully this will help build confidence for the US Squad and they can pull out a couple wins within their initial group. Rack up the points, gentlemen. Everybody likes to scream "GOOOOOOAAAAAL!!!!"