Have we become a soccer nation?
Since blown call against Slovenia, Americans have been talking and that's good
We're not the only nation to get screwed by a call, but we are outraged
U.S. needs to win its third game (which it has never done) to assure advance
Did we just become a soccer nation?
Because this is what soccer nations do. They bitch. They moan. They gnash their teeth and lash out. And dwell and obsess and don't let things go.
So if that's the outcome of the nullified goal against Slovenia, referee Koman Coulibay should get a big round of thanks from Team USA.
It was a moment that outraged our nation -- which is pretty cool if you've been passionate about soccer for years but only rarely can engage in soccer banter by the water cooler or over a pint. But for almost a week, everyone -- from grandmothers to little kids -- have weighed in with an opinion about the disallowed goal. The press room at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach was full of soccer-pontificating media members who not long ago would roll their eyes at the mere mention of soccer.
And that's a good thing for the sport.
Both Landon Donovan and his boss U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said as much.
"The attention over anything for the game is positive," Gulati told SI.com's Grant Wahl. "I appreciate the fact that supporters and casual observers are interested in this, upset by it. That's a positive. Anything that gets people talking about the game."
Welcome to the world, Team USA.
Now we can be like England, who still can't look at Diego Maradona without weeping over the 1986 Hand of God Goal. We can be like Ireland, which is still boiling over the hand ball that wasn't called against Thierry Henry, by Swedish referee Martin Hanson, that put France into the World Cup; oh, how they're celebrating in Dublin over France's woes.
And now the U.S. is fuming over a soccer call. It was outrageous (though if you heard the whistle blow an instant before the goal and saw Slovenia's lack of reaction to the go-ahead goal you knew it wasn't going to be allowed. But never mind that fact -- that dampens the fervor).
We're not the only nation that got screwed by a call -- not even close. We're not the only ones subjected to a controversial call. But we're outraged! We want inquiries! We want American sports rules applied to soccer! We are a soccer nation!
Donovan said the team has been kept abreast of the national outpouring through phone calls, texts and Facebook. "In some ways it's really heartening to see how much people care," Donovan. "And we know that Wednesday is going to be a really big occasion. We relish that because we don't get that very often. We know people are talking about it and people care."
But here's the concern. As Donovan said, the U.S. team isn't used to this kind of attention. And after almost week of dealing with unprecedented focus, of anger, of dwelling upon the perceived injustice -- the American players could be a tad distracted. Too much attention has been focused backward instead of forward. In sports you have to have a short memory, and six days of obsessing doesn't qualify as short-term.
Whining and woe-is-me isn't great mental preparation for a must-win.
And that's what it is. Don't kid yourself. The Americans can't rely on England's result. They need a win in their third game of Group Play.
That's something that they've never done in the World Cup. Not in 1994, when they advanced to the second round (but only after losing to Romania). Not in the disaster of 1998, when they didn't win a game. Not in 2002 when they advanced to the quarterfinals; they fell flat against Poland in the third game and needed to rely on other results.
And not in Germany in 2006 when a win would have put them through but they lost to Ghana. They followed up their gusty tie against the eventual world champions, Italy, with a quiet exit.
Donovan thinks this is a different team. He says they've been hardened from past results. And god knows, they're resilient. But, unfortunately, they're putting themselves in a position to have to be resilient in almost every game.
Almost lost in the hand-wringing over the goal-that-wasn't is the sorry fact that the U.S. team came out looking flat and uninspired against Slovenia. It took a half to light a fire under them, and when the fire was finally lit it was something to behold. As terrific a half of soccer as they've played in the World Cup.
But despite Donovan's opinion that the team is "hardened" in truth this is an inexperienced team. Fifteen of the American players are playing in their first World Cup. They've never played a third game in Group Play, let alone a must-win.
Now they've got their country paying attention, on their side, protecting their back. It's like playing for a real soccer nation.
Time to do something about it.
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