June 23, 2010


US wins game, group _ and a whole lot of new fans (NANCY ARMOUR | Published: 06/23/10, AP)

[T]o become a major player in the U.S. sports scene, to generate the kind of interest the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball do, soccer needs some kind of watershed moment.

South Africa is it.

The wall-to-wall TV coverage on ABC and ESPN — unprecedented in the United States — helps. So, too, does having a team filled with friendly, likable, humble guys. (Note to France: This is how a national team should act, not that dribbling soap opera you sent to South Africa.) [...]

The Americans knew they had to win or they were going home, and they played with a scrappiness that is uniquely American. They banged balls off the posts and sent the Algerian goalkeeper diving to block shots. They hustled from end to end, taking shots and shutting down Algeria’s counterattacks. They even shed blood, with Clint Dempsey sporting a busted lip afterward.

But when 90 minutes were over, it was still tied at zero. Had the game ended like that, the Americans may as well have lost.

“We all believed we were going to win this game,” Jozy Altidore said. “No other result would have worked for us.”

Less than a minute into injury time, Howard made a spectacular save and fed the ball to Donovan. He sent a long pass from about midfield to Altidore, whose shot on the breakaway was tipped by Dempsey into Algerian goalkeeper Rais Bolihi. Donovan — who might have given Usain Bolt a run for his money with his full-throttle sprint to the front — got the rebound and tapped it in, setting off raucous celebrations.

Donovan belly-flopped into the corner, and his teammates quickly dogpiled on top of him. Chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” thundered through the stadium.

The reaction back home is even more telling, however. The fans who made the long, expensive trip to South Africa are going to be fans regardless of where the Americans finish here.

It’s the folks just discovering the allure of the beautiful game that matter. People who played hooky from work to watch the game at a bar exchanged hugs and high-fives. Screams of elation were heard on suburban streets. Twitter and Facebook were flooded with celebratory posts.

“I’d be surprised if we didn’t make a few more fans tonight,” Donovan said, a smile playing on his lips. “My guess is Saturday is going to be a pretty cool occasion for our country.”

That’s when the Americans play Ghana in the next round, the first knockout stage. With no work to get in the way and a viewer-friendly kickoff time (the game starts at 2:30 p.m. EDT), expect ratings even higher than the blockbuster numbers ESPN and ABC have already seen.

The local top 40 station that we have on at work was not only giving updates but doing so over piped in vuvezela noise and the instructors (Dartmouth players) at our youngest's baseball camp gave them scores during the day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 23, 2010 4:15 PM
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