While I am nervously awaiting my own country’s World Cup second round encounter (which lets face it, we will probably lose as well) I still feel the USA’s brave World Cup campaign deserves an honourable mention.
Let’s start with the group stage. Bob Bradley’s men thoroughly deserved to win the group ahead of my team, England. They battled in every game, showing great spirit, determination and no little skill. It would have been a travesty of justice had the US gone home early after that goal was inexplicably ruled out for offside in the Slovenia game.
Similarly I would have felt a little embarrassed had England topped their group despite only playing well for, erm.. about 20 minutes in their whole campaign so far.
Therefore our clash with the old enemy Germany (something I warned against in another blog ahead of the tournament) is something we were didn't want, but totally deserved.
That is not to say that Ghana was an easy option, far from it. After becoming the only African nation left in the tournament they have garnered the rest of the continents support and so appeared to be galvanised still further when the match kicked off in Rustenberg.
It was spoken of before the game that the US fail to keep clean sheets regularly at the moment and so it proved again when Ghana made a flying start to the match, taking the lead inside five minutes.
But, after a shaky opening 45 I was impressed with the character of the US side who stormed back in the second half to claw themselves back into the game and as the clock ticked down, became the most likely team to score.
But when extra time started the game swung the other way again. The USA appeared to run out of steam while the Ghanaians suddenly regained their composure and began to keep the ball much more comfortably. It was a cracking winner too, and perhaps one fitting of a World Cup knock-out game.
However, the most infuriating side of the game (and especially this tournament) reared its ugly head once more as the Ghanaian players suddenly developed a series of serious injuries, despite going nowhere near an opposition player – like magic.
Well, no it was cheating and when you are chasing the game it becomes enormously frustrating and even for me, a huge football fan, is a side of the game I despise.
In the end it proved one step too far for America and Ghana took their place in the last eight of the World Cup for the first time. Despite America’s disappointment I couldn’t help but feel slightly happy for Ghana and Africa in general. The World Cup needed a African representative to go far in order to sustain interest and after the failure of South Africa, Ivory Coast, Algeria and Nigeria the pressure was on Ghana to perform and they did....just.
So what does this mean for US Football (soccer)?
There appears to have been an unprecedented interest in the World Cup in America and one that bodes well for the development of the game ‘across the pond’. However, the true test for the football authorities in America starts now.
The World Cup is a great time for any sports fan, not those necessarily interested in football, to support their country. But If football (soccer) is to really compete then it needs to grow and carry support in the intervening years.
For me (and US readers do correct me if I’m wrong) this starts with the domestic game. The MLS is still a comparatively weak league and offers nowhere near the entertainment that, say the Champions League or Premier League offers. However, due to the time difference these games are hard to watch for the casual viewer. So if a ‘typical’ American sports fan wants to go to a sports match at the weekend you cannot blame them for choosing the NFL, NHL, NBA or MLB, which features some of the World’s best players, rather than the comparatively poorer MLS.
What the game needs in my opinion is a star US player to come through the ranks. A ‘Wayne Rooney’ type youngster with a rags to riches story that can inspire thousands of fellow Americans and carry the MLS brand. Investment in youth football is therefore crucial to the development of the game.
The strengthening of the domestic game should in turn boost the national team which, by if this year’s performance is anything to go by, should ensure the presence of the USA in the latter stages of the World Cup for decades to come.