Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Sorry, too late. The U.S. soccer bandwagon is nearing capacity. After last week’s improbable run to the World Cup quarterfinals — a stage that was set with a historic 2-0 win over rival Mexico — bandwagon reservations are already being taken for Germany 2006.
But don’t hesitate. Get your seats now. It’s only a matter of time before the U.S. takes the whole kit and kaboodle. And believe me, soccer fans, you won’t want to miss it.
Friday’s 1-0 loss to soccer superpower, Germany, proved not only that U.S. soccer has arrived; it’s here to stay. Give the Americans four more years of training together and playing on an international stage, and they could be one of the favorites.
They already handed Portugal its lunch, defiled Mexico and played a rambunctious South Korean side to a draw in this year’s tournament. Forget about the 3-1 loss to Poland in round one, because when this team is truly on its game — not the case that day — it can play with anyone.
The gringos have finally learned how to play with the rest of the world, and instead of being an afterthought to win anything other than the U.S. Cup, they’re ready to surpass the competition. If it hasn’t already happened, the nation that “doesn’t care” is about to give the rest of the world a wake-up call.
Bruce Arena is the ideal fit as coach. Claudio Reyna and Brian McBride are remarkable team leaders. Defenders Eddie Pope and Tony Sanneh have reached all-world potential. And 20-something players like Damarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan demonstrate a brilliant — not to mention, lightning-fast — future.
But even beyond the players on the field in Korea/Japan this summer, it’s becoming apparent that this country could become a soccer nation. Somewhere, deep down, our collective conscience is ready to let us admit that soccer is fun to watch!
Even the sports radio hacks who belittled the Cup for months were right there watching the quarterfinals at 4:30 a.m. last Friday. What’s up, bandwagon?
The signs of growth are everywhere. Major League Soccer is beginning to earn international respect in its eighth year. Youth programs are continuing to grow at unprecedented rates, with participation nationwide now rivaling that of little league baseball.
More and more athletes are realizing that their skills and body builds may be better utilized on a soccer pitch instead of a basketball court or football field. More and more coaches are recruiting players and grooming them with proven soccer methodology.
All the pieces are in place. There is no reason the U.S. shouldn’t shoot itself to the top of the soccer world within a few short years. And while I prefer to stay away from predictions, I can confidently say that this team is finished going backward.
The U.S. is on the doorstep. Next up, the hoisting of sports’ most coveted trophy.
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