Team USA, Thanks for the Memories

The dream is over… Team USA fell to Ghana, 1-2, in the Round of 16, thereby ending their World Cup run.

Though I am Mexican, when Mexico loses tomorrow against Argentina, I will not be as distraught as I was after Team USA’s loss. For the simple reason that México is not expected to win, and even if a miracle happens, they’re up against the winner of Germany and England in the quarterfinals. Good luck with that one…

The U.S. on the other hand had the easiest path to the semis in recent memory. Get past Ghana and play the winner of Uruguay-South Korea (Uruguay won today). Not exactly a gauntlet of fútbol powerhouses.

I defer to the experten for the technical breakdown of this match.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have any thoughts on what transpired before the eyes of our 42nd President (below, Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)


That guy to his left looks vaguely familiar…

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USA! USA! USA!

Facing the prospect of a draw with Algeria and thus the abyss that would be an early exit from the World Cup, Landon Donovan managed to put a Clint Dempsey rebound into the Algerian net and propel Team USA into the Round of 16 as the winners of Group C to boot.

I could talk about the numerous chances America’s Team had throughout the match:  Dempsey bouncing a shot off the post, Hercules Gomez not blasting it past the Algerian keeper, Jozy’s numerous flubs.

I could even expound on how an elderly and visually-impaired D-Wade could have cost El Equipo de Todos (Our Team, that’s Univision’s nickname for Team USA) everything but…

No.

This moment belongs to one of the greatest sporting moments I have witnessed, not just in the World Cup but throughout all sport.  Yes there was Vince Young’s unworldly performance against USC, Gibby’s improbable blast off Eck back in ’88, the Houston Rockets going back-to-back etc.

I have loved fútbol (soccer to some of you, football to others) all of my life, it is the sport I learned before I learned to walk.  Being a native of México had a lot to do with this.  Throughout the years, baseball, basketball  and college football have take a large portion of the market share, but every 4 years, fútbol is king.

As has been extensively catalogued on these pages, I “live and die” with Mexico’s National Team (El Tri) from the time World Cup qualifers start to such a time we find ourselves in now, the World Cup.  Naturally, during qualifiers I root against the United States when they play my beloved Tri, but every other time I’m right there with Team USA.

Watching the USA-Algeria match today, my heart grew heavier with each passing minute as Team USA failed time and time again to get the ball past a stupidly grinning Algerian keeper.  As stoppage time came and Algeria headed a dangerous ball towards U.S. keeper Tim Howard’s goal, the flickering flame of hope waned…

Howard, arguably the U.S. best player, then sensed an opportunity and hurled the ball mightily towards a streaking Landon Donovan.  I sensed something special was going to happen because this is exactly how he looked last year when he scored on a counterattack against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final.

They got down to the box, the ball ended up at the feet of Clint Dempsey and the hands of the Algerian keeper, who made a mighty save.  The ball bounced right out off his hands and into the annals of history in the form of Landon Donovan’s right foot.

Elation…  Relief and Joy.

I may or may not have gotten a little-teary eyed at what I had just witnessed.  I can say with certainty that this moment surpassed anything I’ve felt watching México at this World Cup.  For me to say that…

What a country this is, where an Argentine (Andres Cantor) is calling the game on Spanish Radio and goes berserk calling Donovan’s goal.  So much so that he is unable to belt out his trademark “GOOOOLLLL!!!” because of the emotion of the moment.

What a country, where a Mexican fútbol/soccer/football chant, “Si se puede!” (“Yes We Can”) is used to fuel an historical election, only to come full circle by being plastered on posterboard in support of Team USA (Photo by Phil Cole Getty Images)

I don’t know what this victory means for the future prospects of soccer in this country, and to be honest I don’t particularly care.

Whether or not the sport ever gives baseball, basketball or American football a run for their money here in these United States is irrelevant.

Fútbol is king, and when it comes to watching your homeland (adopted or otherwise) at the World Cup, there is nothing like it.

Here’s a video of Landon’s historic goal.

Americans Haunted By A Phantom Call

Major, major props to Team USA for not succumbing to despair after falling behind 0-2 against a surprising Slovenian squad, that apparently holds Chuck Brown in no small amount of reverence. The fact that America’s team equalized in the second half is a testament to the grit and can-do attitude that fueled the establishment and growth of this great nation.

Of course, it was lackadaisical marking and a flaccid attack that put them in the early hole and to be sure that will surely be addressed by head coach Bob Bradley. Resiliency is a trademark of a team that can make a deep run in this, the greatest of all sporting events, and the American proved that they have just that.

The story of this match should have been that, a scrappy American squad falls behind early only to come roaring back in the second half to tie, then in the closing minutes to win on a Maurice Edu strike off a set piece. But nooooo…

Instead, the story of the match is head referee Koman Coulibaly from Mali who made an atrocious call that nullfied Edu’s potential game-winner. Coulibaly called Michael Bradley offside on the play despite not being in a position to make such a call. You see, that call typically goes to one of the linesmen who has a better angle on it. What makes this especially frustrating is that no one knew what the nullifying call was.

Even before making up this offside, this ref had shown a remarkable ability to make a buffoon of himself. He gave US forward Robbie Findley a yellow card for a handball. Fine and good, except that the ball hit Findley in the face. I don’t know maybe in Mali a hand is a face and a face is a hand, who knows?

I do know that this may sound condescending but what the hell is a man from Mali (FIFA Rank: 54) doing officiating a contest on this, the grandest of stages? What’s more, why is the Saudi ref (KSA’s FIFA Rank: 66) who clumsily presided over the México-France match also afforded the opportunity on this stage? Yes, I know that not all refs from low ranking FIFA members are laughably incompetent, but I’m beginning to sense a pattern and I’m not the only one.

In my opinion, the best football/fútbol is played in Europe and in Latin America so why not fill the World Cup referee pool overflowing with the best men from the leagues therein?

Mr. Coulibaly showed that he has no business presiding over a juice box-ridden and orange slice-infested FFPS lovefest much less a World Cup match.

All that said, here are some thoughts on what transpired:

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Landon Donovan to Club América? ¡Guau!

Whether or not this even has a chance of becoming reality remains to be seen, but Greg Lalas of Sports Illustrated makes the case for it here, Why Donovan could join the enemy.

Here’s Landon Donovan depicting America’s role in WW II…

Donovan
My buddy… My buddy and me.

In all seriousness, I think Lalas makes a good case for Landon joining las Águilas del America, given the precarious perch they find themselves in right now, on the brink of relegation.

Personally, I’d love to see what a world-class player like Donovan brings to a tradition-laden side like C.A. I’d also love to see how he’d be treated by the rabid fan base in México City. He is the proverbial thorn in México’s side.

Hopefully they would treat him better than they did last week, when idiotic fans threw various things at him as he prepared to take a corner kick. Seriously folks, boo the man, hiss at him but why hurl projectiles (among other things) at him?

As in most realms in the sporting world, if he joins C.A. and the team starts dominating, I think the fans will warm up to him. The fact he speaks Spanish wouldn’t hurt him either.

That being said, when Donovan suits up for the Stars and Stripes, all club allegiances dissipate and I would expect nothing less from my countrymen than a rabid antagonism.

Especially when memories like this are seared into the collective memories of all fans of my beloved Tricolor,

Landon Donovan