Sports Commentary 9/11/13
The U.S. Men Soccer team qualified for their 7th straight World Cup last night….
YES, IN OUR LIFETIME
Thirty some odd years ago, about the time the UCONN men’s soccer team won a national championship under Joe Morrone, one of the most universally recognized soccer experts in the world expressed the opinion to me that the United States would never be a major player on the international soccer stage. He didn’t exactly say ‘never’, “not in our lifetime”, was the actual phrase he used. Within 10 years the U.S. team was in the World Cup Tournament. Full disclosure, the U.S. was in that 1990 tournament as the host team, the host always drawing an automatic entry. They didn’t fare too well. But four years later the U.S. was back, this time as a legitimate qualifier. Still, the U.S. team didn’t have as deep a talent pool to select from as the international teams for whom soccer carries the same importance as the NFL carries here, and many American starters paled in ability to the reserves on many of the teams they faced in the tournament. But American audiences were getting caught up in the excitement of the way the game is played at the highest level on the planet and U.S. television ratings soared whenever our kids were on that stage. Next year in Brazil the U.S. team will play in the World Cup Tournament for the seventh straight time. Last night in Columbus, Ohio the U.S. defeated Mexico 2-0 in a qualifying round thriller that went to halftime in a scoreless tie, then they retreated to the locker room and took up the role of observers for the next hour as they watched Panama settle for a two all tie with Honduras, securing their berth in Brazil. Seasoned world cup veterans are worth their weight in Gatorade and Landon Donovan, coming off a bout with pink eye, off a corner kick, set up Eddie Johnson for a blistering head blast in the 49th minute before scoring the put away goal himself in the 78th minute. Donovan represents he experience on this team, Johnson represents the new depth, as he came off the bench in the absence of Jozy Altidore to come up big in a win that gave the U.S. the lead in the North and Central American and Carribean finals with a 5-2-1 record, 14 wins in 15 games, and 16 points, one better than Costa Rica, which fell behind the U.S. with a 1-1 tie with Jamaica. There were concerns about that U.S. depth with Geoff Cameron, Michael Bradley and Matt Besler also sidelined but Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman took up positions in the midfield and, even when Mexico was forced into an offensive 3-4-3 set, they let very little get through them. Under coach Jurgen Klinsmann this U.S. team is showing nuances all the way down the bench no one believed possible on the international stage just a generation ago. No one is predicting the U.S. will go to Brazil and win it all, not yet anyway, but they will be major players when they get there. It just goes to show you, even the experts, not even the most noted experts in the world, get it right all the time. This one got it wrong. We are, at last check, both still alive. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.