A Little Diversion…

So, I was planning on blogging on psalm 6 tonight, but I really don’t have it in me.  I have some major exhaustion going on from the fact that Brooke and I have readjusted to Colorado schedule while Ellis has not (i.e. we go to bed late and she wakes up early), and I’m trying to digest the emotional roller coaster that was the U.S. run in the 2010 World Cup.

I’m sure no other blogs are posting about the game today (Ghana won 2-1 after extra time), but at least I’m probably the only blog who was posting on psalm 6 and changed it to World Cup soccer.

We lost to a Ghana team that was talented, but young.  Ghana certainly played well enough to win, but the frustrating aspect is that the U.S. played well for stretches, and really carried the play.  I wonder if our legs were shot: after the equalizer it seemed Ghana slowly regained the pace of play, until the final, frenzied push by the U.S. for the last 2-3 minutes.  I wonder if the emotion of the Algeria game was too much for us, if we lingered with it too long.

I wonder about the starting eleven, and how Clark and Findley got the starts, especially Clark.  Coach Bradley displayed a wonderful ability to adapt to the game, but really a dreadful ability to plan for it: he consistently had to make early subs and the whole team took on this personality: we constantly fell behind in games.  While we salvaged ties a couple times, against quality competition you cannot routinely concede goals in the first fifteen minutes.

So, as a fan I’m frustrated.  I want to savor the high of the Algeria game for a few more days; I want this Ghana game to happen next Wednesday, even if we lose again.  I want to watch videos like this again and again:

Or to read articles about the commentator who called the game, already compared to Al Michael’s call of the “Miracle on Ice.”

But, time moves ahead slowly, steadily, casually.

The game against Ghana reminded me most of the Slovenia match.  We were woefully inept for most of the first half (although, we ended the half much stronger than we did against Slovenia) and recovered in the second, with some timely substitutions.  We attacked very well for the first twenty minutes of the second, resulting in the PK, but just couldn’t put the game away.  It seemed we didn’t quite have the urgency or intensity.  We pushed, but not with the edge we had in previous games (Slovenia and Algeria).  Whether due to Ghana’s more skilled team, or our tired minds and legs, or some combination thereof, I don’t know.

But, I will remember this World Cup as a time when the casual soccer fan came out of the woodwork.  Thanks to ESPN for televising all the games: it has forced America to take notice.  Brilliant call, as well, on choosing some announcers from across the pond: it adds a legitimacy to the action, and the non-stop nature of a soccer match requires a certain kind of announcer, rather different than most other popular sports in America.

Because of this World Cup, I’m fairly convinced that I’ll see the U.S. hoist the trophy sometime in my lifetime (probably right toward the end).  As the popularity grows, our population size and the money in the sport will mean that we become more competitive.  I mean, the term “soccer mom” has not really been around that long, but has certainly become a part of the American lexicon.  As more kids today play the game, there are more potential stars who can help the U.S. succeed in elimination play.  And, the popularity of our team for the past two weeks has captured our nation’s attention; it has surely spawned more soccer team sign-ups and will funnel more money and development into the sport.

For this reason, I almost think it’s good that the U.S. struggled like it did in the group stage.  Yes, we won the group, but let’s be honest.  We held a lead for two minutes out of the entire 270 minutes of play in group.  We didn’t exactly rush through the group convincingly.  But, our manner of winning captured the media and the public much more than any 3-0 wins might have: we’ll be watching the goal against Algeria for years.  While a win against Ghana would have helped even more, I certainly think that in the larger narrative of soccer in the country, our struggles have helped more than sure success would.

National soccer teams take on a flavor of the country.  Brazil is about style.  Germany about efficiency.  The U.S. has taken on the flavor of pluck, of courage, of never-say-die, and this is exactly what captures the public’s imagination.  This is who Americans want to be.  Not flashy or unemotional.  We want grit and heart and daring odds.  We want Hoosiers and Rudy.  For two weeks, the U.S. Men’s National Team gave us exactly that.

Finally, America has a team which it can get behind.  Which it can identify with.  And, while the loss to Ghana is bitter, I look tonight at the larger narrative: the movement of soccer in America, the way 23 men captured our attention.

It was only two weeks, but the effects will last for a generation.

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