US-based British sportswriter Simon Veness reports on the rise and rise of soccer interest in America
Last Updated: 25/06/10 11:16am
FIFA dodged a major high-explosive, heat-seeking bullet thanks to Landon Donovan. The World Cup was 90 seconds from a HUGE inquest into the quality (or lack thereof) of their officiating when the former Everton loan signee struck a goal that sent a nation, not previously known for its soccer following, totally barmy.
I mean, running-out-into-the-streets crazy; opening-the-doors-and-windows-to-scream-with-joy ecstatic; cartoon-eyes-out-on-stalks wild; absolutely, completely and utterly gonzoid nutso. And then some.
TV pictures of sports bars across the country (some of them open at 6am because of the time difference) showed the Stars and Stripes fans in various stages of all-out winning goal frenzy like nothing this country has seen before.
Yes, there have been bigger victories for American sports. There was the 1980 'Miracle on Ice' of their Olympic ice-hockey victory over the Soviet Union, and, er, well, that's about it for major international team events, unless you count the one-man swim team of Michael Phelps at the 2008 Olympics or Winter Olympian Bonnie Blair in 1994 (the 1992 basketball 'Dream Team' doesn't count as it would have been a seismic shock if they HADN'T won).
The arguments about whether the USA's 1-0 win over England in 1950 was a more notable victory had begun almost before the screams of joy had died down.
And, given that the national team of 60 years ago didn't actually qualify for the knockout phase; that they certainly never left it to the 92nd minute before clinching the win; and that there was, actually, a whole country watching in breathless anticipation this time (back in 1950, there was only ONE American newspaper reporter in Brazil, and then only in his spare time!), there was no real contest.
It was 2010 1, 1950 0. In fact, it was more like 10-0, as virtually every branch of the media went officially Radio Ga-Ga over the 'Shot heard round the world'* and the Heroes of Loftus Versfeld.
Having said earlier this week that it's a Sign of the Apocalypse when your American mother-in-law can debate the World Cup's dodgy disallowed goals, we had all Four Horsemen out and galloping in the wake of USA-Algeria.
There were sports talk radio jocks arguing offside calls, talk-show stalwarts David Letterman and Jay Leno telling World Cup jokes (including having Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the villainous linesman who ruled out Clint Dempsey's 'goal'), and internet and mobile phone lines almost in meltdown as America talked, texted, tweeted and toasted the late, late drama.
Verily, if the USA go on to reach the final, you can fully expect this country to physically explode, win draw or lose, judging by the reaction to mere group qualification!
Of course, all this joy and merriment has served to heavily disguise the possibility of another major World Cup officiating scandal. Having had the 'winner' mystifyingly chalked off against Slovenia, Bob Bradley's men had another perfectly good score ruled out for offside in the Algeria nail-biter.
They also had DaMarcus Beasley booked for chesting the ball down and getting fouled (apparently his chest looks like an arm to some officials, which makes sense, as Robbie Findley has also seen a yellow card for getting hit in the face by the ball, so at least they are being consistent with their 'handball' calls) and Clint Dempsey's face being repeatedly used as elbow target practice in the Algerian penalty area.
In every previous World Cup game to date, any vague contact between arm and face has been rewarded with a sparkling new red card for the arm-ed contestant. But, for the USA, it only counts as a card if the ball hits you in the face or chest, apparently.
So, while the likes of Kaka and Yoann Gourcuff can also contemplate the mysteries of a red card for doing, well, not very much actually (and Spain's David Villa gets away scot-free even when he ADMITS to back-handing someone in the face!), the vagaries of FIFA's officials continue to baffle and confuse.
Luckily for Sepp Blatter and Co, Donovan's goal made the whole question immaterial, but the chorus of disapproval is certainly already at a steady mutter. And, as I also pointed out earlier this week, in a country that sets great store by its ability to use instant replay to resolve some of sport's great iniquities, it is absolutely baffling that 'the world's biggest sport' steadfastly refuses to stop its officials being made to look complete chumps by many of their decisions.
(You'll notice I said 'some' and not 'all' sporting iniquities, as baseball is still trying to live down the shame of Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga being denied a rare perfect game earlier this month by one of the worst umpire calls since God was a boy)
So, where does that leave us in this galloping hysteria over the round-ball game in the land of the oval-shaped 'football'?
Well, the US team has already met the President before embarking for South Africa, so another trip to The White House would be merely passé. They have become familiar fare for all the talk-show hosts and the radio personalities, so there is no major media outlet that hasn't already jumped on board Bradley's Bandwagon. And every goal is now greeted like the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA title and Stanley Cup final put together.
That just leaves the legendary Ticker Tape Parade, usually reserved for major title winners in the US. Only this would have to start in New York, and finish in San Francisco!
* For once, the 'Shot heard round the world' headline was fully deserved. Previously, the phrase was reserved for Bobby Thompson's National League-winning home run for the New York Giants in 1951, when the rest of the world would actually have been pretty deaf to any baseball heroics. This time, it was a genuine world contest with large parts of the globe tuned in. Only 59 years late with the headline, then!