EDGAR ZUNIGA - Friday, June 25, 2010
Just for a moment, allow yourself to bask in the warm afterglow of arguably the most dramatic victory in the history of the US National Team.
We all know that the US isn't the most talented or technically sound team in the World Cup, but they always play with heart, grit and a never-say-die attitude.
This team has endured terrible officiating, questionable performances by players and numerous wasted opportunities. Through it all, however, the team has displayed enduring resilience and, after all the bloodshed and sweat, came the tears of joy.
It feels damn good to have something big to celebrate with the rest of the nation, not just the loyal supporters. So, at a time like this it's important to celebrate with responsibility. And, no, this is not some public service announcement.
Landon Donovan's goal shook the entire nation; from coast-to-coast and all points in between, people went insane with delirium.
Do you remember Paul Caligiuri's "Goal Heard 'Round the World" in 1989? Chances are most of you have not. But, boy, times have changed.
Just jump on YouTube and you will be flooded with celebrations of Lando's goal, from New Yorkers stopping traffic on a street corner to the American Outlaws marching triumphantly through Hollywood.
Everywhere you look, people are joining in on the celebration. Even the most stubborn soccer bashers have raised an eyebrow. Those that aren't too familiar with the game are suddenly caught up in patriotic fervor.
With everything that has affected the nation–the economic decline, unemployment and the BP oil spill–the country was starving for something like this to lift their spirits and celebrate as a whole.
So, now is the time for all the loyal diehards and connoisseurs to show some maturity and educate the newbies about the team and the game. It's time to be patient and explain the offsides rule, why David Beckham isn't playing for the US although he plays in MLS and the significance of the upcoming Round of 16 matchup with Ghana.
Yessir, Ghana. Remember them?
How can we forget the inglorious fashion in which World Cup 2006 ended for Team USA?
How can we forget the phantom foul called on Oguchi Onyewu and subsequent penalty that gave Ghana their pass to the second round?
This time around, every time a ref made a controversial call against the US, it brought back memories of '06 and even '02 and the German handball in the box that was never called.
It is enough to drive people to tear their hair out. You couldn't be blamed for wondering which gaffe would eventually doom the US to an early elimination and even more talk of a FIFA conspiracy against Team USA.
However, there is something very much different about this US team from the '06 version. Some point out their incessant work ethic and their knack for late-game heroics.
Yeah, the calls haven't exactly gone the way of the US, but you have to take a step back and recognize that the team has found itself in such harrowing situations because they have given up stupid early goals or haven't seized opportunities throughout their games.
Nonetheless, there is something else about Bob Bradley's boys that has propelled them beyond the group stage.
It's called maturity.
With every subsequent match, the US has been playing with more confidence and are practically maturing before our very eyes.
Look at how far they've come. Getting through the CONCACAF qualifiers is now seen as a sure thing, so the true test is the World Cup, and, so far, the US has displayed a higher level of development and unshakeable poise in the face of demanding situations that would bring smaller men to their knees.
Leading the charge is Donovan, who has become an American legend. Yeah, legend.
While he has matured steadily over the years, Donovan has elevated his game to a higher level over the past 6-8 months, which coincided with his successful stint at Everton and was instrumental to the Los Angeles Galaxy beginning the season on a 12-game unbeaten streak.
Finding himself on teams where he isn't the sole scoring threat, Donovan has thrived as a playmaker, setting up goals for his teammates, and, with his intelligent and quick pace off the ball, he constantly finds himself at the right place and right time to contribute.
And, when all else fails, Donovan has the bravado to carry the team on his shoulders and deliver impressive and timely goals that spark the rest of the team. Such was the case against Slovenia and against Algeria. And, if you recall, he delivered several pinpoint passes that almost led to goals during the England game.
Of course, Donovan isn't the only American hero in this World Cup. Michael Bradley has shown uncommon restraint and has been a workhorse in the midfield, approaching every game with a tight-lipped seriousness and demeanor.
Meanwhile, Clint Dempsey has done what's been expected of him and, if he didn't have the gumption to challenge Robert Green... Yeah, let's not think about that.
Despite giving up a few close calls, the defense put together a valiant effort against Algeria. Carlos Bocanegra played like a captain, Steve Cherundolo didn't give up anything without a fight and Jay DeMerit was a monster. Even Jonathan Bornstein played well. Can you believe that?
Yes, the last gasp victory over Algeria was well-deserved, much-needed and should be celebrated for all eternity. However, in the end, it was just one win over a team that the US was supposed to beat anyway.
As always, the US had a difficult time playing the role of favorite. It happens in CONCACAF competition and it happened against Slovenia and Algeria.
Funny, though, how just one victory, just one goal at the right time, can have such a profound impact on everything and everyone.
Now, the US must take all the lessons learned and apply them to the task at hand. Get past Ghana and the winner of Uruguay-South Korea awaits. And, not wanting to get too far ahead, but they have a legitimate shot at the semifinals.
Go ahead, dare to dream.
First things first, though. If the US is to get revenge on Ghana, the team must continue to adapt to situations, keep evolving and accept all challenges with aplomb and that immeasurable resolve to never give up, never surrender that has become the defining characteristic of US Soccer which, more than anything, embodies the American spirit.