World Cup: USA! USA! USA!
I always think about the sheer jubilation players go through after making a crucial play that has the potential to live on forever. When I was a kid, I dreamt of pitching a perfect game for the Atlanta Braves or hitting a grand slam in Yankee Stadium in Game 7 of the World Series [to defeat the Pinstripes]. Of course, when your mind runs wild at that age, anything is possible. Wednesday morning, I thought of those make-believe sports moments I created in my front lawn or driveway. The United States’ 1-0 victory over Algeria fit the description almost identically.
During your childhood, you play out those fantasies because it is about winning but also being your team’s hero. U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan was able to live a thrilling sports fantasy while being the hero. And, he finally answers a question most have asked for at least the last four years – “Is Donovan the best male American soccer player ever?” In my opinion, it is a solid “yes.”
With two goals in the last three World Cup games, the 28-year-old Donovan has stepped up when it has mattered. His 48th-minute goal versus Slovenia, which he admitted was aimed at the face of goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, was a work of art. Donovan’s tap-in goal to send the United States to the Round of 16 was absolutely clutch. Get used to it because that more-difficult-than-you-could-imagine goal defines Donovan’s soccer career.
If for nothing more, the mere fact is that Donovan has sparked a fire in casual American sports fans and even the soccer diehards. After his rebound goal against Algeria, I cheered, whooped and felt the pure jubilation of the back-of-the-net winner. Speaking with numerous non-sports fans later that evening, they were gushing about the score in the second-half stoppage time. During these Wednesday discussions, talk of the win over Algeria brought about more than United States soccer. People were surprisingly dissecting the play of Cameroon, France, Italy and Nigeria. Hearing multiple differing points of view, it has solidified, to me, that soccer is the world’s sport. And, maybe it is my American stubbornness, but I feel that our squad can compete against some of the best. Note: Yes, I used “our,” and I merely said, “can compete.”
Ignore my American cockiness – it comes with the wonderful territory – about our soccer team. The United States is talented and played calmly down to the wire in all of its three Group C games. The England match should have been a loss, but a team needs the occasional luck shot now and again. Also, it seems that Team USA has placed the questionable refereeing calls against Slovenia behind them. If the calls can float our way for once, then Saturday’s knockout-stage match against Ghana, the last team to defeat the U.S. in the World Cup, is very winnable.
With Group D runner-up Ghana on the horizon, the United States is set to face a squad with one of each – a win, loss and tie. Ghana, ranked No. 32 in the most recent FIFA world rankings, defeated Serbia, lost to Germany and tied Australia. In comparison, the worst-ranked team the U.S. has faced was Algeria at No. 30. In 12 days, this United States squad has delivered little disappointment and no early exit, which I demanded two weeks ago. I am expecting no letdown versus Ghana Saturday.
I still believe we are capable of special things. At this point, and I cannot help but get ahead of myself, a trip to the quarterfinals – even the semis – is not out of the question. The U.S. has the ability to move forward after encountering anything – similar to when Clint Dempsey took an elbow to the mouth in the dwindling minutes of the second half Wednesday. The action drew blood, no card and multiple shrugs of Dempsey’s shoulders. That play embodies the Americans’ readiness for anything.
The way the United States advanced to the one-or-done stage – by winning its group for the first time since 1930 – seemed like a dream. I and, I’m sure, many others were caught up in the shortcomings of the 2006 USA squad. No matter the past, I want to soak in the current accomplishments of Landon Donovan and Co. It has been so fun I do not want to wake up….
Richard Miller is a national broadcaster for Jacksonville Jaguars’ home games on Sporting News Radio.
Additionally, he can be heard on ABC 1320 WBOB in Jacksonville and 103.7 FM at the Jacksonville Beaches on Saturdays as host of Inside the Game. The program airs from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Currently, Richard is writing David Lamm’s biography entitled Lamm at Large: The David Lamm Story, which will be available in 2010.
Follow Richard on Twitter @MillerOnSports.