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If you were a bitter fan, you might be asking yourself that question right now. What was all of that for? Why’d we get excited? Is that IT?
I’ve got good news and bad news for you, U.S. soccer fans. The bad news is that, despite Landon Donovan’s last-minute heroics in the Algeria game to send us into the knockout stages, despite the heart-stopping draw (that was really an American win) against Slovenia, the 2010 World Cup is not going to be looked back upon as the watershed moment that catapulted soccer firmly into the American mainstream. Jim Rome and his moronic ilk are still going to scoff, and you’re still going to get funny looks at parties when you wear your Arsenal jersey.
There’s a silver lining, though, as I said: the 2010 World Cup marks the official arrival of the U.S. as a soccer nation among the rest of the world. American soccer players can hold their heads up high, particularly given the abject and nausea-inducing displays produced by both of 2006′s finalists. The Americans beat Spain and battled bravely against Brazil in the Confederations Cup. They held England – and really, they probably could have won that game – were unjustly held to a draw against Slovenia, and produced an inspirational finish against Algeria this month in South Africa. We’re here. We’re Americans. We can play this game, too.
And in the wake of the Ghana game, it appears that we can see a superb second-half performance undone by a brilliant goal. (It’s an important skill for a major international team to have, I’m told.) But Team USA’s heads should be held high as they leave South Africa. In a generally disappointing first act for this World Cup, their graft and industry – along with their flair for the dramatic – made them standouts and fully deserved group winners.
I wrote a World Cup preview for this Website many months ago. I dismissed any thoughts that the U.S. would do anything but make an appearance at the World Cup as fantasy. As somebody who mostly follows the EPL, I frequently find myself in the curious position of knowing more about soccer but less about my own national team than many more casual fans. So I fell back on the stereotypes I’d absorbed from British media (I’m looking at you, Guardian.co.uk!) about American soccer: they’ll be athletic and well-organized, but they don’t know how to play. Despite the disappointing exit, I’d like to say right now that I got that one absolutely wrong.
As snooty as this undoubtedly sounds, I can pay the team no higher compliment than this: they didn’t LOOK like Americans playing soccer.