Michael Donnelly is a soccer fanatic, a plumber, a part-time journalist and one of my Facebook friends. So when he recently slammed a Pearlman-penned soccer-related post, I thought, “Here’s a guy who knows what he’s talking about.”
Hence, I have invited Mike to explain how—and why—America will win the World Cup. Take it away, Mike …
The scenes I witnessed today as Referee Frank De Bleeckere called time on Team USA’s sensational game against Algeria reminded me of the feelings I felt watching a similar outpouring of joy when a certain Mr.Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States; Enjoy your victory, sure, but at the same time realize that the hard work is far from over. Truthfully told, it has only just begun.
Any seasoned soccer follower should not be amazed by Team USA’s progression to the knockout round of the tournament. Group C was far from a tough group, with Algeria and Slovenia best described as mediocre, and as long as manager Fabio Capello insists on playing Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard side by side in midfield for England then they shall remain as vulnerable as they appeared in their opening three games. An officiating injustice in Game Two of the American campaign just meant that Bob Bradley’s men had to do it the hard way, that’s all.
What will have surprised veteran World Cup observers however is the passion and commitment that this particular group of players seems to be displaying every time they pull on the jersey and step onto the field. From the substitutes clearing the bench to join in the celebrations of Landon Donovan’s late late winner against Algeria to the goalscorer himself breaking down in tears prior to a post match interview after the same game, it becomes clear to the watching world that this team didn’t travel all the way to South Africa to make up the numbers. They actually believe they have a shot at winning the damn thing!!
And why not? Next up in their sights are Ghana. While the Africans started well, dispatching Serbia 1-0, they have really stumbled over the line and into the next round, drawing with a fairly limited Australian team before being defeated by a German side that clearly displayed more technical ability. The loss of tough tackling midfielder Michael Essien prior to the tournament was a massive blow to the Ghanaians and while they still possess a strong physical presence on the field of play it would be difficult to see them in their role as the lone African team in the knockout stages beyond the last 16, especially if Michael Bradley and the aforementioned Donovan continue their recent run of excellent form as key men in the centre who just love to get forward and test goalkeepers for the entire ninety minutes.
Should the Americans get over that hurdle they will be faced with the relatively difficult task of defeating the winners from the Uruguay-South Korea tie. It’s hard to see South Korea winning here and one would fully expect Uruguay to book their ticket to the Quarter Finals at the expense of the Asians. While Uruguay admittedly looked impressive in the group stages the quality of opposition they faced has to be taken into account. France was shambolic, South Africa played 45 minutes of decent soccer out of a total of 270 with only Mexico providing any real opposition in the challenge to top Group A. Dangerman Diego Forlan seems to be on top form but the solid American defensive pairing of Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, with 143 international appearances between them, should have enough ability to snuff out any threat provided by the Atletico Madrid frontman. Should the offence do their job in this game, victory is most definitely possible.
If the United States reaches the Semi Final stage of the Greatest Tournament Of All then they should have no reason whatsoever to fear anyone. They proved in last year’s Confederation Cup that they are more than capable of mixing it with the so called “big boys”. A sensational triumph over European Champions Spain was followed by a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Brazil in the final, where maybe America’s clutch game inexperience was exposed. Given the chance the second time around to create history I’m sure Bob Bradley won’t make the same mistakes twice. Neither, one suspects, would the players.
Yes, it’s farfetched. Yes, I’m hopelessly optimistic. But the more I see of Team USA the more I see of a team capable of making a serious impression in this glorious festival of Soccer. And no matter what happens, at the very least they deserve the unwavering support of anyone who wishes to call themselves a true American sports fan. With a whole sports crazy country behind them then who knows what is possible.
Yes We Can, anyone?