Recaps and game analysis to follow one or two hours after each match.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Group C: United States

Below is an article I wrote and submitted to a few local papers. It was not published (as of yet), but I did like it.

US Soccer: It's Not About Winning
By Derek Rhoades

American's are a competitive breed of sports fan, we want our teams to win, to sign the best players, and to have the most amazing plays. With the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa just days away, many individuals are already clamoring for the United States team to be successful, but winning is not a part of this success. Instead, the national team is heading to South Africa with another goal in mind, to show the world.

Comparatively, soccer has always taken a back seat to the rest of sports in the United States. It has never had the same history as baseball nor the rabid fan base as football, and until recently, had been little more than a small blip on the world radar. This is what will be on the player's minds during the tournament, where they hope to gather interest and recognition for a developing sport back home, to prove to the world that America can compete in the biggest sport on the world stage.

In 1994 the World Cup was held in the United States, under the condition that a professional league was started, but besides the record attendance and the horrendous denim colored jerseys the team wore, the United States did not capture the attention of other nations. However, it did open the eyes of the American public who quickly noticed the popularity that soccer enjoyed outside of the country. This insured the success for the inaugural season of Major League Soccer (MLS) which kicked off in 1996.

During the 1998 World Cup held in France, the national team took to the field with two seasons of professional play under their belts. They failed to live up to expectations, crashing out of the group stage as the worst team in the tournament. MLS would suffer from this setback, losing income and having to cut teams, but during the 2002 Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan, something spectacular happened, something that saved the MLS and ushered in a new era for American soccer: the national team reached the quarter-finals. Suddenly the world had noticed America, the players were being talked about, and scouts from the top European leagues were sent out to watch developing American players.

MLS benefited greatly from this showing, seeing a spike in revenue and allowing the construction of soccer specific stadiums across the country. Furthermore, it allowed players to begin making their mark in the top leagues of the world. However, as typical in the sports world, the national team did not stay on top forever. The last World Cup, held in Germany during 2006, was billed by journalists as the year the United States would contend for the title, instead they failed to make it out of the group stage. This is not to say the team played poorly, in fact they played very well at times, holding eventual champions Italy to a one-one draw, they were just not the team everyone expected. Although it did not affect the popularity of soccer in the states, it left the rest of the world wondering: “Was it a fluke?”

This is the impression of American soccer the players will be dealing with ahead of the tournament. Some players on the team have since made an impression individually, such as Landon Donovan (pictured) playing on loan at Everton F.C., and Clint Dempsey already being a fan favorite for Fulham F.C., both teams competing in England's premiere league, regarded by many as the best league in the world. However, question marks are already being placed on how well the players will do as a team. The national teams first game will be June 12 in Rustenberg against England, which are one the favorites to win the tournament. Most expect England to win the game, but many of us are secretly thinking: can the United States pull off an upset? A possible repeat of the 1950 World Cup in which the US shocked the world by beating England one to zero in the group stage would certainly fulfill the goal the players have. Even if they lose they still have two group stage games against Algeria and Slovenia, both are teams who are simply happy to be at the tournament, it is during these games the players will have a chance to show off their skills.

Win or lose the world will be watching the national team this summer, where the players will be putting aside the past to showcase the future, a future in which American soccer can be respected and given more attention in world media, a future in which the players proudly stand up and exclaim to the world: “beware, we are coming!”

My Prediction: Second Round, as Germany will probably be too much for the team to handle.

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