I've enjoyed watching soccer for a long time, and for a long time I've listened to the haters. "It's boring." "No one ever scores." "Those guys are always flopping and falling down." Personally I've always been able to appreciate the intricacies of the game that cause the rest of the world to refer to it as The Beautiful Game, but I could also understand where the detractors were coming from. Well today's U.S. game was scoreless for 91 minutes, and it was one of the most riveting and emotional sporting events I've seen in a while.
The set-up for the drama began on Friday, when the U.S. fell behind Slovenia 2-0. They managed to come back and tie the game, something a U.S. team has never done in a World Cup game. Then they scored the go-ahead goal, seemingly completing a historic comeback, only they didn't, as it was disallowed on a phantom call by the referee. The Americans had to settle for the tie, but despite the anger and frustration of the blown call the U.S. still entered today's match against Algeria controlling their own destiny. Win and go through to the round of 16.
It didn't take long for the drama and emotion to escalate, as Clint Dempsey scored in the 21st minute, but once again the goal was disallowed on an offsides call that replay showed should not have been made. Elation turned to frustration with the incorrect raising of an offsides flag. Two goals that should have counted and should have had the U.S. cruising into the round of 16 stolen away.
About the same time as this was unfolding, in came the update from the other game in the group, England had taken a 1-0 lead over Slovenia, meaning the U.S. would need a win to advance if that result held up.
Despite the two crushing missed calls, the Americans pressed on. They continued to get great chance after great chance, but remained unable to bury the go-ahead goal in the back of the net. Jozy Altidore fired a shot over the crossbar of a wide open net. Clint Dempsey hit the post, then shot the rebound just wide. Each one had me jumping from my seat only to return with my head in my hands. Algeria goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi made a couple great saves, and the game remained tied.
As the referee signaled that there would be 4 minutes of stoppage time things did not look good for the U.S. England's lead remained at 1-0 in the waning minutes and it appeared that the U.S. would be eliminated with the draw, and with a sour taste in their mouths, knowing that two disallowed goals that should have stood led to their demise.
And then it happened. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard saved a try from Algeria, and quickly made a beautiful outlet throw to Landon Donovan streaking up the right side. Donovan pushed the ball forward, got it to Altidore, who's shot was tipped by Dempsey. The save was made by M'Bolhi, but the rebound was left right out in front where Donovan found it and buried it in the back of the net.
It was an incredible sequence, and it was an incredible game. At no point in the game was I bored. My emotions ran the gamut from frustration, anger, disappointment, hope, and excitement to outright joy. The game displayed both drama and great displays of athletic prowess. It's time for the United States to get on board with the rest of the world and appreciate and enjoy the game of soccer, and this team is the perfect place for us to start. Here in Philadelphia we know the feeling when a team captures and embodies the spirit of its city (2000-2001 Sixers, this year's Flyers, the World Fucking Champions), and as cliche as it might sound, this United States team embodies the spirit of our nation. They overcame bad luck and some screwups of their own doing and found a way to emerge victorious. And it was a pleasure to watch.