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World Cup dramatics……rouse a sleeping giant?

25 June 2010

On Wednesday morning the United States soccer team defeated Algeria 1-0 to win their group and advance to the round of 16.  In a tense scoreless match, it quickly became clear that the dominating Americans desperately needed to convert just one of their numerous opportunities to advance.  Without a score, their World Cup would end right there.  After 90 minutes of heartbreaking frustration, including one questionably disallowed goal, one empty net misfire, and a shot off the post, the U.S. was delivered by Landon Donovan’s goal in the first minute of injury time.

Needless to say, this was biggest victory in recent American soccer history.  Not because they are through to the next stage.  It wasn’t because they won their group and have favorable bracket pairings into the semi-finals, nor was it because their level of play has improved considerably in each game.  The reason this game was so big for U.S. Soccer was that it strapped the casual American onto the roller coaster of seesawing soccer madness and delivered an immensely satisfying ending on the game’s biggest stage.  Never before has the U.S. won like they did on Wednesday.  It was always missing something.  The team advanced on a tie, won off an own goal, or beat the Spain’s of the world in meaningless friendly games, not on the big stage at the World Cup.  The game against Algeria was exciting.  Soccer finally delivered (for the Americans) what its always promised, unabashed dramatic entertainment. After the game I imagined Europeans, Africans, and South Americans saying, “Now you finally see…..why we’re so crazy about this game.”  
 Soccer in America is growing; our National team is improving each year, gaining experience and relevance.  But it’s a gradual process.  World Cup in the U.S. in ’94, the formation of the MLS, or David Beckham playing for the L.A. Galaxy won’t make American’s rabid soccer hooligans overnight, and I’m not sure why anyone expected it to.  But I am sure that our team playing great soccer and winning spectacularly has opened some people’s eyes.  With increased viewership, networking, and yes, DVR, more American’s will be tuning in and that’s good for soccer.  We just need to win some more good games.  People won’t be ditching their NFL season tickets for the MLS anytime soon, but maybe 8 to 12 years from now, who knows…….the U.S. could be a serious contender to take it all.

Oh, by the way, The French and Italians, both perennial powers, are out.  The U.S. next face the African nation of Ghana Saturday afternoon in an elimination game.  Hopefully it will be half as good as the last.

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Basics:

Soccer (or football as it is more commonly referred to outside of the United States) is the most popular sport in the world.  More...

Terminology:

David Beckham:  Famous British soccer player.  Married to Posh Spice, Beckham is a tabloid sensation as well as a renown goal-scorer and former captain of the English World Cup team.

Own Goal: When a player accidentally scores on his own team.

MLS: Major League Soccer, a soccer league established in America to mirror the other major leagues in basketball, football, baseball, and hockey.

Direct kick, Indirect Kick: Both are free kicks awarded for fouls.  Direct kicks may be struck directly into the goal whereas an indirect kick must be touched by another offensive player before shooting on goal.
 
Penalty Kick: A one-on-one style free kick between goal keeper and shooter, given for egregious fouls in the penalty box.  Also used as part of a penalty shoot out to decide tied matches after extra time.
 
Offside: offside is called when an offensive player, or attacking player, is passed the ball and there are not at least two opponents between him or her and the goal line. Usually, these are the goalkeeper and one other defender, but not necessarily.  Offside is judged when the ball is struck and attackers that are even with the second to last defender are onside.  This makes offside the most controversial rule in soccer because its usually a close call and can decide goals and games.
 
Red Card/Yellow Card: To be “booked” with a yellow card means you have committed a particularly egregious foul.  A red card means the player is ejected and his team must play shorthanded , as they cannot replace him. Two yellow cards in a single game equal a red and the player is sent off.
 
Striker: A Striker, forward, or attacking player is one whose primary purpose or role on the team is attacking the opponents goal with the intention to score.  Generally, strikers rarely defend and are on the receiving end of passes and crosses.  Their strength is usually their shooting ability or penchant for eluding defenders enroute to goal.  Strikers are well known players because they score the majority of goals.
 
4-4-2:  Terminology for team playing formations. 4-4-2 means four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards.
 
FIFA: FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) is the international recognized governing body of soccer.  Designed to codify a common set of rules for international play, FIFA has overseen, organized, and promoted the sport for over 100 years.  FIFA is responsible for creating and running the FIFA World Cup, tallying world rankings, certifying officials, and approving rule changes.

Relegation: The bottom few teams in a European soccer division are subject to relegation at the end of the season.  This means if teams don’t perform they are demoted to a lower division and replaced by the top teams of the lower division for the next season.  Can you imagine the Kansas City Royals being demoted and the New Orleans Zephers going up to the major leagues? That is the concept applied to MLB.