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United States soccer: A tale of what could have been?

Photo courtesy of the USA players website.

Well it was a good run.

Good enough in U.S. soccer standards, I suppose. Save for a miraculous third-place finish in the inaugural 1930 World Cup and a quarterfinals appearance in the 2002 World Cup, this round-of-16 appearance is tied for the fourth best appearance from a United States squad in nine tries.

Unfortunately this doesn’t take into account the 10 times the U.S. didn’t qualify for the World Cup. It also doesn’t include 1938 and a terrible 32-year draught that began in 1954, and lasted all the way until 1986.

But let’s all be completely honest with each other. The U.S. isn’t exactly a fútbol powerhouse. Wait, did you mean football? No, unfortunately I’m referring to the football you actually play with your feet. The beautiful game; something the U.S. has managed to make ugly at some points in its courageous World Cup runs.

If we ever had a year to make an impact and show the world we know how to play soccer, it was this year. (I’ll call it “soccer” to save the confusion that sometimes comes in explaining the sport to common Americans).

First, let’s start with our group. The United States, for once, looked superior to big brother England. Although the English National Team is full of Premiership players, the “Three Lions” never looked ferocious enough to warrant a number eight International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) ranking. Granted we did earn a draw against them with a fluke of a goal, but England never got on track in the World Cup and is consequently in the same place the United States is.

The other teams in our group, Slovenia and Algeria, were nothing to be worried about as they are ranked 25 and 30 respectfully. You’ll find the U.S. 11 spots higher, ranked 14 by FIFA.

Thanks to a courageous Landon Donovan goal in a last gasp effort by the United States, we saw a glimpse of what could have been. We were lucky enough to win our group, to set up a rematch with Ghana.

A far better matchup than the group runner-up England who went on to see Group D winner Germany counter-attack to turn their dreams into nightmares by beating them 4-1.

Ghana really looked like a team the U.S. could beat. Not only did we have revenge on our minds from the 2006 World Cup, but the momentum of referee gaffs and a resilient U.S. squad was also working in the United States favor. Ghana was also missing arguably their most decorated player, Michael Essien, to injury.

But by the end of the 120 minutes played in the United States’ Round of 16 game against Ghana, the results had managed to again not be in the U.S. favor. In the 93 minute, Asamoah Gyan managed to sneak a goal passed goalkeeper Tim Howard to end the U.S. run.

Looking ahead, I feel as if we had a reasonable chance to beat Uruguay. They are certainly a favorable matchup for the United States, in that they don’t possess the star power that countries like Brazil, Argentina or Germany has. But even the loud-blowing Vuvuzelas couldn’t wake the United States from another World Cup nightmare.

I guess it’s time to face the facts. The United States isn’t a soccer country. North America isn’t a soccer continent. Welcome home Mexico and Honduras.

The general population of the United States just isn’t interested in 0-0 draws or 1-0 victories. Think basketball with a ton of turnovers and one basket, to get an idea of how the United States views soccer.

The “physical contact,” or should I say the lack thereof, is also a turnoff to the U.S. population. The diving from Paul Pierce and Manu Ginobili over the course of a basketball season are enough for me. Seeing Brazilian Kaka sent off for a red card when he clearly was ran into finally pushed the limit.

The officiating was also suspect in this World Cup, with not only one but two goals taken from the United States. Now ask any American sports fan the reason their favorite team in any sport lost this past year and seven out of 10 will point to the officiating. It’s just what we as Americans do. It is also a pain felt in England and Mexico.

Now throw in the fact that we just aren’t good enough as a country to be competitive in international soccer and it’s easy to see the disinterest in the sport. I will continue to watch the beautiful game throughout the tournament to hopefully wipe away the pains from what could have been.

But with the World Cup now over for the United States, I’m sure many people can agree, the next question on everybody’s mind is, WWLD. “What Will LeBron Do?”

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