The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Where were you when Landon Donovan scored against Algeria?

I was in a bar called Puck Fair, while ostensibly still “at the passport office”. I was in a bar with one television in front of me playing USA-Algeria, and one behind me playing England-Slovenia – destiny playing out on my 12 and my 6. In the 92nd minute, I was in fucking ecstasy.

It rather did have to be Landon Donovan that put it away, didn’t it? It’s fascinating how his path has mapped out in a manner much like his nation’s football fortunes have. A strong start (the US were semifinalists in 1930, remember) followed by a period in the wilderness, the object of scorn and derision. Now, as this wonderful sport is finally obtaining a serious foothold in this country, many of Donovan’s detractors (of which I was often among the most vociferous) are coming around on the guy.

Seriously, Landon…all is forgiven. I’ll never call you Landycakes (or EFFING CEE, for that matter) again.

Whatever happens against Ghana on Saturday (I can only hope that my Manila-bound flight has a TV on which I can watch it), this is already America’s best-ever performance in a World Cup. The 1930 semifinal appearance was fairly fluky and there were far less teams back then. As great as the 2002 run to the quarterfinals was, as much as USA 3-2 Portugal is our greatest-ever single World Cup result, the rest our efforts there were ropey at best. By 2002, beating Mexico was closer to routine than it was to extraordinary…however much our southerly neighbors may not admit it. In no major tournament (not even that great Confederations Cup result last year) have our boys survived a first round without losing a game. Four goals scored, three conceded may not seem like the stuff of legend until you look again at our checkered past.

Writing out “GF 4, GA 3” does not provide the entire picture, though. All three goals conceded came in the first halves of the first two games – each time, the US finished with a point out of the match. I have followed the USMNT for a long time – I can recall plenty of versions of this team that would have fallen into a Guatemala-style sinkhole upon going down 1-0 to a team like England inside the first five minutes. I remember teams where USA 0-2 Slovenia would likely have become 0-3, 0-4…or worse. I remember teams that would have gone into a win-or-go-home (as it turned out) game against Algeria and meekly opt for the latter.

Highlighting the character and determination of this team is quickly becoming the purview of cliche, but I am unable to resist. It may be a greater literary sin still to bang on about how it reflects the better angels of our country’s own nature. But, you know what? It does. It just fucking does. That isn’t to say that the United States isn’t the only nation with a can-do nature, it’s not to say that the US is the only exporter of determination and guts. I do insist however that we do it with a certain swagger – almost an elan – that no one else does. We do heart with a Hollywood sheen. I know damn well that it isn’t for everyone…we can be an insufferable lot at times. I cannot fathom though a single neutral in this world who didn’t at least crack a smile when Donovan scored. Fuck’s sake…the Yanks did it again. The only thing missing from this thriller was the Algerian coach telling us his plan for world domination while Tim Howard was caught in his theoretically-inescapable death trap.

Many sports fans that I know tend to express admiration towards the best of the best – the ones who are so good at what they do that it seems effortless. I can appreciate that as well – I dislike much of the Spanish team given my searing hatred of all things related to Barcelona, where many of them play their club ball. But, when they eviscerate an opposing defense with a crisp 12-pass move, I can appreciate the aesthetic qualities of their play. You know what, though? As good as that is, as much as I enjoy it during the 5 or 6 times a season when Arsenal puts it all together, I like a snarling underdog more. There’s something that gets me in my happy place about a team that goes down a goal or two and says “Fuck you, sunshine…that the best you got?”.  It is a horrific shame that a steady stream of sports movies have made a caricature out of the magical. There’s almost no way to describe it in language that wouldn’t be out of place on the back cover of the DVD for Major League or Slap Shot. Then again, I couldn’t care less. Sometimes, cliches get that way because there’s more than their fair share of truth associated with it.

So, three minutes away from the precipice, now we can dream of quarterfinals or even semifinals? No, really…get past Ghana and we’ve got the Uruguay-South Korea winner (Uruguay, then). The South Americans are a useful outfit and their strikers are absolutely dangerous. But, are you going to bet against this team right now? Are you not going to reach for your phone after Destiny has given you her digits? FUCK AND NO. Why can’t we? Worse teams than us have made a semifinal…two of them in fact, and that was just 1994. Even if it all ends against Ghana this weekend though, there’s an unshakable feeling that the momentum from the Confederations Cup is continuing in the right direction. Little by little, we’re getting pretty good at this game. We may not be Spain or Brazil or even a current-state Germany, but in my lifetime?

Don’t bet against it.

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June 23, 2010 - Posted by | Other Soccer

3 Comments »

  1. YOU’RE ALIVE!

    Thank God. I was concerned you had drowned yourself in one of those hooligan bars. 🙂

    Comment by DrHogie | June 23, 2010 | Reply

  2. I was at a shitty Heartland Brewery after skipping out on a major conference with my boss who said, “Fuck this, let’s go watch the England game.” Fortunately, they were also playing the US game, which made it even better that it was simultaneous.

    Comment by Tony M | June 23, 2010 | Reply

  3. You know where I was? In Mexico doubled over in pain in bed recovering from Montezuma’s Revenge. I only found out by watching highlights on Mexico’s ESPN Sportscenter.

    I will never get over that.

    Comment by KenOnBass | June 26, 2010 | Reply


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