USA to the Semis?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Jeff Klein of the New York Times sees a relatively clear path to the semifinals of the World Cup for the American team after its injury-time victory Wednesday -- and how the standings in the other first-round groups have shaken out:

Their cardiac 1-0 victory over Algeria on Wednesday gave the Americans first place in Group C, and because of that they are in an attractive spot in the tournament's bracket. They will face Ghana in the Round of 16 on Saturday, and should they win, they will go on to face the winner of the Uruguay-South Korea match in the quarterfinals.

While Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea are all difficult to beat -- if anything, this World Cup has shown that any team, no matter how modest its reputation, can defeat any other -- none of them are considered giants of the game.

Of course, neither is the United States. But the benefits it reaps for winning its group are appreciable. [minor format edits]
Even though it was the Ghanians who finished us off in the group stage in 2006, I was relieved that we'd face them Saturday rather than Germany. I hadn't thought to look at opponents beyond that, although perhaps Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times might argue that I should have:
I loved the video that showed different parts of America cheering Donovan's goal, but shouldn't that rejoicing have been filled with more relief? We should have won that game because we were clearly the better team. We should advance to the round of 16 because, well, we're the 14th-ranked team in the world.


Despite what you may read, the only Cinderella [in Saturday's game] is the other team.

The U.S. is ranked 18 places higher in the world than Ghana. The U.S. has six consecutive World Cup appearances; this is only Ghana's second. Despite a loss to the Black Stars four years ago, the U.S. is light-years ahead of Ghana in age, experience and funding. This is not a gift game. This is a must-win game.

Now, if the U.S. team can win two more times and make the Final Four for the first time? Well, that's something. That's progress. That's an awakening. That's big-boy soccer.

Until then, don't just cheer for their success, but demand that success, and stop treating them like children.
He makes a good point about expectations keeping pace with the continued growth of the game in this country. I agree that the above is a reasonable expectation, but my own expectations for this team in particular are tempered by my own observations: Our team's greatest strength is a fighting spirit that is glorious to behold (and which has been missing in the past). But can this strength overcome its possibly fatal flaw of a weak defense? I don't know, but I'll watch as long as they're still playing -- just as I (and Spencer Hall) have over the past twelve years.
... On some huge life-map, I'd tacked my course using this team as a reference. Pins and lines ran all over its meridians: lost, confused, giddy, absent. With Donovan weeping during his postgame interview, I put another pin on this spot: happy.
Here's hoping that "successful" will continue the above string of adjectives, and sooner, rather than later!

-- CAV

PS: Scott French, writing for ESPN, calls the disallowed goal in the Slovenia game a favor to American soccer:
[Koman] Coulibaly, the Malian referee who waved off a stunning goal by Maurice Edu of Fontana, Calif., to complete the U.S.'s comeback from a two-goal deficit Friday against Slovenia, did American soccer a favor. He robbed us -- not just Edu and Donovan and Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, but all of us -- and by doing so fermented this country's identification with this U.S. team. We'd been wronged, and in our indignation, soccer suddenly mattered. [links dropped]
If the drop in stock market trading volume at the tail end of the win against Algeria is any indication, French is right.


Mike said...

Somehow your title and subject immediately triggered memories of John Turturro in The Big Lebowski. :)

QUINTANA: I see you rolled your way into the semis. Dios mio, man. Seamus and me, we're gonna f___ you up.

DUDE: Yeah well, that's just, ya know, like, your opinion, man.

Gus Van Horn said...

Heh! That whole movie cracks me up.

Along with Rounders, Office Space, or Fight Club, it's one I'll slip into the DVD player and watch again for laughs whenever my wife has to go out of town.