I’m no soccer guy. I played one year as a kid when my hometown football program folded because of a lack of interest. My kids both played soccer for a year or two of clinic. I helped the head coach. My main job was to lift the kids high in the air to celebrate when they would “score a goal.”
My loves are football, lacrosse and college hoops. I have a basic knowledge of soccer but couldn’t name 3 English Premiere League teams until my son picked up FIFA ’14 for Xbox. I actually knew several players on the national teams for the World Cup before the tournament started. That probably put me in the top ten percent of fans in this country.
I knew a flock of Man City guys like Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast), David Silva (Spain) and Edin Dzeko (Bosnia) to name a few. I actually watched a few EPL games as the season wore down. I knew Belgian Vincent Kompany who actually got a yellow card in the US game! A major strike against my soccer knowledge, I did not know US goalkeeper Tim Howard played for Everton. Oh well. My son rolled the Xbox with the Spanish league players so I could drop some names there too.
All that said, here is my take on the US effort in the World Cup.
Game 1: US 2, Ghana 1. What a start. The Dempsey goal made you take notice 34 seconds in. Then reality started to sink in. This team was not going to go out and throttle anyone in their group. Ghana dominated possession from what i saw. Howard played well and a late corner gave the US a win they knew they needed to get out of the group. It showed the first and second signs of the resolve they showed in each game.
Game 2: US 2, Portugal 2. I thought this was the US’s best effort, certainly in the second half. They seemed in control. The chances they allowed were thwarted easily enough. The Jones goal was a gem. But leading 2-1 with the final seconds running out, they allowed one of the greatest players in the world time and space to create and Ronaldo delivered a scathing dagger of a cross for the game-tying header. The final whistle sounded and it felt like the US had lost.
Game 3: Germany 1, US 0. Here is where our shortcomings really came to light. Germany dissected the US defense and piled up chance after chance. Eventually, they solved Howard for a goal and held on to win the group. What the US did show in the closing minutes was American resolve. Two chances in the last minute nearly tied the game…but in the end, 1-0 was enough to move on to the round of 16. And a loss felt like a win.
Game 4: Belgium 2, US 1. Tim Howard elevated himself to Jim Graig status on the world stage. The only difference was the final result. If you don’t know Jim Graig, you’re probably pretty young and haven’t seen Miracle. Howard became a household name. Soccer folks around the world knew that Belgium might have won 5-0 if not for his effort. As it stood, after full time, the game was scoreless. As badly as things had gone through the first 90 minutes, there was more time to sneak a goal. Then things went worse through the first extra 15 minutes as the US trailed 2-0. I remember saying, “if we could just get a goal, at least we would make it interesting somehow.” And boy did they ever. Losing only after numerous chances to force the game to penalty kicks went awry.
In the end, no one knows how close the US is to winning the World Cup but i believe its fairly far off. This team wasn’t talented enough…even the coach said so before the tournament. Shoot – winning the thing is almost unthinkable with the advanced skill around the world. Pure talent, however – and this team showed it – is less a factor in this sport than any other i have watched. A single lightning strike can be the difference in winning and losing a given game. Winning the World Cup though requires much more than a single lightning strike. If we ever do win, it will be quite a party for sure. Unfortunately, for most folks, i think soccer is relegated to a once-every-four-years event in the US. There is a good chance the US won’t win in any of our lifetimes. We are lucky here that, for the most part, the best basketball, baseball, hockey, football, golf, tennis and lacrosse players play here. In soccer they don’t. Until there is real change in that statement, i think we are doomed to be eliminated. It was still a pretty entertaining ride – the fake injuries, dives, mysterious stoppage time, and knockout games being decided on penalty kicks notwithstanding.