Americans On Brink
Of Something Significant
By MIKE DICK
One Great Season
The U.S. takes on Ghana Saturday in the knockout phase of South Africa 2010. The Yanks are coming off of their heart-stopping, last-minute victory over Algeria to turn a potential early exit into a group-topping finish.
The feat hasn't gone unnoticed. The drama of that win, coupled with the we-wuz-robbed moments of the Slovenia and Algeria matches, has generated a lot of pub -- even sympathy -- for this team. The casual or even non-soccer fan seems to be along for the ride, which is awesome.
The Americans are where they should have expected to be when the Cup began, advancing from the group stage. Nothing less should be accepted anymore. Now comes the time to show if the U.S. team has what it takes to make this a truly special tournament. If the Americans are as good as they like to think they are, and if our country wants to be taken seriously as a footballing nation, Ghana is the kind of team the USMNT must beat, period. No excuses (barring another d-bag refereeing decision late in the going).
A win will propel the U.S. into the last eight, and match the achievement of the USMNT in Japorea 2002. But this team has the chance to do something much more signficant. Much of that magical 2002 tournament run wasn't enjoyed by the masses, as many of the matches were played in the middle of the night U.S. time. Not so with South Africa. I expect big numbers (in the soccer sense) for the Ghana clash, which adds to the pressure and significance of Saturday's showdown in the Royal Bafokeng Stadium. Sure the world will be watching. But more importantly, Americans, and lots of them, will be as well.
It's a joke that the U.S. Women's 1999 World Cup triumph is the most watched soccer match in our country's history. It just goes to show what marketing and promotion can do. That was played up as some sort of improbable, feel-good story, when in fact the USWNT was one of, if not, the best women's team in the world, playing on home turf, with one World Cup already in their pockets. Now, this men's team has a chance to do something far more significant in the sporting and cultural sense. They may actually be able to raise the profile of the game outside the ever-growing group of hard-core football fans. Here's hoping the Americans are up to the task.
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