Wednesday, June 23, 2010

World Cup Day 13

This is probably going to be one of the most raw, emotional posts in the short history of this blog. It’s entirely biased, completely unobjective, and almost purely stream of consciousness. In other words, it’s also probably going to be one of the worst posts in the short of history of this blog.


Have you ever witnessed something that you know is real, as real as real can get, as real as slap to the face or a kick to the cookies, and after pinching yourself seventeen times and splashing your face with ice cold water, and biting your forearm, and banging your head against a solid wall to ensure that yes, this is real, yet you still don’t believe it?

Well, I, along with a countless number of soccer fans in this country (and some even abroad), just had a such a moment like that a few minutes or so ago.

What can you say? What can be said? It's indescribable. And that's not supposed to happen to me. I'm a freaking writer,* for God's sake.

(*Though not a particularly good writer, mind you. But a writer, nonetheless!)

After Dempsey’s goal was disallowed and the cries of corruption, ineptitude, and sheer stupidity belted through living rooms, dorms, cublicles, bars, restaurants, offices, and wedding rehearsals, it seemed as if this U.S. team, perhaps one of the most complete U.S. teams ever assembled, by a man who was once “interim manager” after the federation's first two choices fell through, was the Merriam-Webster definition of the term snakebitten.

In their last 135 minutes, the Yanks had charged their way through the midfield, furiously attacking, refusing to relent, and had two legitimate, guaranteed or your money back goals disallowed by two different referees. That just doesn’t happen to mediocre teams. It happens to good teams. Good teams on their way to the top.

Today’s match should’ve carried a warning: if you have a heart condition or are taking prescription drugs for heart disease, proceed with caution. This match had all of the drama, tension, and excitement of a Mario Puzo-penned trilogy. The Yanks saw chance after chance squandered. Dempsey, Jozy, Dempsey again, Bradley - it all seemed oh so close, yet light years away.

With ten minutes until time, the familiar stench of fatalism began to creep through. We'd smelled this smell before. And you could see it manifest, through the crowd, through living rooms, through the internets. It was the scent of imminent failure. You saw the red, white, and blue looks of hopelessness in the crowd. Their team was good. Just not good enough, it appeared. The desperation took hold of the masses, and it nearly choked them as if it was tear gas. That is, until, the face of American soccer, the man who dissed David Beckham, the man counted on to guide these men to World Cup success, pinched the game-winner through in minute number 91. And all was right with the world.

Looking back on the Group play, the U.S. played pretty darn well. Of course, I'm fairly certain my current emotional state is painting a rosier picture than reality. But seriously, save for a horrendous first half against Slovenia, the U.S. played like a legit world power against England, and completely ran the Algeria match. They defended. They attacked. They held the ball. And sure, the finishing, at times, frustrated supporters and non-supporters alike, but it’s a given, for any team, good, bad, or North Korea, that chances aren't always clinched.

In 2006, those chances were painfully absent. It’s not easy to find opportunities when you’re constantly playing from a deficit. And so it was written: the U.S. starved themselves out of Germany.

But 2010 has been different. Far, far different. This team is led by a mature, put-the-responsibility-on-me, Landon Donovan. He oversees some of the highest quality players the U.S. has ever produced in Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, all of whom are peaking at the perfect time. The anti-2006 squad, if you will.

Together, they’ve already provided two of the greatest moments in soccer history in less than a week: the two-goal comeback vs. Slovenia, and the thrilling, all-of-my-fingernails-toenails-and-cuticles are gone finishes many of us have ever witnessed.

And who better to cap it? Landon Donovan himself, in the dying seconds of U.S.-dominated affair that was locked at 0-0 for over 90 minutes. The same Landon Donovan who magically appeared in 2002, crashed and burned in 2006, and like a phoenix, gloriously rose from the ashes in South Africa to put his accomplices through to the Group of 16 for the first time since his hair was blonde and Brad Friedel was back between the pipes.

This time around, though, the Americans of 2010 didn’t have the same luck or good fortune that saw their 2002 counterparts through to the quarterfinals. Rather, they had to overcome suspect officiating, a dizzying two-deficit, and the loss of the prodigious Charlie Davies months prior to not only advance, but to win their group. The last time that happened, Herbert Hoover was trying to steer the country out of the Great Depression, and the prospect of night time soccer was a pipe dream.

What we witnessed today, was history, through and through. A bonafide, I-cannot-believe-what-I-just-saw moment for the ages, a moment when many of us will easily recall, decades from now, exactly what we were doing when our eyes betrayed us, because there was no way we were seeing what we were seeing. I know I will.

Unless, of course, greater moments await.

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