Monday, June 29, 2009

Has Soccer Arrived in the USA?


Ok, so the United States gave Brazil all it could handle in the 2009 Confederations Cup final, falling to the 5-time World Cup champions, 3-2.

But what does it really mean?

According to the Boston Globe's Mark Stokes, this final could be the match that pushes soccer into the forefront of American sports.

David Beckham and MLS haven't done it. Can a spunky USA team in South Africa in 2009 do it?
Have a read and send us your opinion.

They came, they saw, and they almost conquered the world!

Bob Bradley’s US soccer team had their hearts broken in Ellis Park, Johannesburg, on Sunday, coming within sixteen minutes of one of the biggest shocks in footballing history, yet ultimately failing to lift the Confederations Cup thanks to a late one-two punch from five-time world champions, Brazil.

We kicked every ball with them, held our collective breath through countless Brazilian raids and thought the gods were on our side as the clock ticked down towards full time. But alas it was not to be!

After an enthralling opening half from the Screaming Eagles the underdogs lead 2-0 at the break. Clint Dempsey registered his third goal of the competition after only ten minutes, the Fulham midfielder ghosting into an advanced position and getting the slightest of touches to Jon Spector’s cross before watching the ball drift wide of Julio Caesar and into the corner of the net.

If the American players were in dreamland following Dempsey’s strike they were positively in Heaven seventeen minutes on when Landon Donovan led a breakout from inside his own half. The pint-sized striker fed Chalie Davies on the left and took a wonderful return pass from the former Boston College player. The LA front man still had much to do but produced a deft cut inside his marker, worthy of anyone in a Brazilian shirt, before unleashing an unstoppable shot past the goalkeeper to send his team mates wild with delight.

Suddenly the impossible dream was possible. But Brazil stormed back with a superb second-half display.

Luis Fabiano fired home within mere seconds of the restart, turning the brilliant Jay DeMerit before rifling a left foot shot past Tim Howard.

But the pressure proved too much at the other end and, after seeing Howard steal the ball from his feet, Luis Fabiano was on hand to convert a Kaka cross which skimmed across the face of the goal from the left - Robinho's initial shot hitting the crossbar and falling into the path of his strike partner.

Coming on 74 minutes the equalizer had the effect of dropping US heads and more than a couple of passes went astray in the middle of the park. The Americans had been brilliant under the aerial threat all week, but were found wanting on 84 minutes when Lucio was allowed time and room to meet Elano's corner with thundering header that flew off a post and into Howard's top right-hand corner to complete a remarkable comeback.

In the final analysis this was a tournament which instilled pride in the American soccer public more than any other venture in the past. This was also a tournament for all those soccer moms and dads who devote countless hours of their lives (and gallons of gas) to advancing their kids’ soccer education. Finally the parents can see tangible results and perhaps prospects for their offspring in years to come.

And take it from a European born soccer scribe, this is a team which showed many a nation across the pond about belief in oneself and possessing the courage to take on the so called ‘best in the world.’

The USA will be in next year’s World Cup in South Africa, of that there is little doubt now. Hopefully they’ll have the support of the nation this time around, not the half-hearted effort of years past. And it’s not every day of the week that we see foreigners sporting the star-spangled banner, but judging by the thousands of flag waving neutrals in the crowd at Ellis Park, this team has apparently done more for the image of America abroad than any politician in recent memory.

So move over David Beckham - your time has come and gone. US soccer is now in the hands of the blue collar kids from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Texas and, more importantly, in the hands of a public which apparently has had its appetite whetted and cannot wait for next summer.

It’s a subject which has been debated for decades, but after all its trials and tribulations in the land of the free and the home of the brave, the time may now be at hand.

Whisper it very quietly: Soccer may finally have arrived in America.

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