Thursday, April 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Welcome to the good side of history

A reflection on why the United States' win over Algeria matters so much.

Welcome to the good side of history

There is a reason why journalists are referred to as professional cynics.

It's not just that we're supposed to do the best we can to view the world objectively. More than a few people in this line of work are naturally inclined to be pessimistic about things.

I'm sure you've figured out by now that I'm one of those people. So it won't surprise you that I was very much fearing the worst for the U.S. national team coming into yesterday morning.

One of my oldest friends in soccer, Aaron Stollar of BigSoccer.com, wrote a blog post before the game titled "All we can do now is believe."

And yet, when I stop thinking about 2006 and 1998 and that same awful look of fear and cowardice we've grown to dread out of this team on the big stage, all I can think is... holy [manure], there is a very good chance that not only will the US get out of the group stage, but they could well win the group. That could very well actually happen.

I couldn't get there. I tried, but it just didn't happen. Not just because of the collapse in 2006, or the complete flameout in 1998. The 2002 group stage was also on my mind, even though the U.S. made the quarterfinals that year.

It was early in the morning at the ESPN Zone in Washington, and I was covering a viewing party for the U.S.-Poland game hosted by the U.S. Soccer Foundation. The United States gave up two goals to Poland in the first five minutes, and the place was in utter shock.

All the progress made in the win over Portugal and the draw with South Korea was gone, eviscerated before anyone could even finish a glass of orange juice.

There was an eruption of joy and relief when Park Ji-Sung scored the goal that knocked Portugal out, and qualified the U.S. for the second round instead. But despite the history that was made thereafter, the U.S. still needed serious help to make it out of the group.

Until today, the U.S. had never reached the knockout round of a modern World Cup on foreign soil with a result of its own making. That sentence may sound like it has a lot of caveats, but you get the idea.

Another way to construct the situation is like this: The U.S. had lost all six of the third group stage games it had ever played, going all the way back to 1950.

1950: Chile 5, United States 2
1990: Austria 2, United States 1
1994: Romania 1, United States 0
1998: Yugoslavia 1, United States 0
2002: Poland 3, United States 1
2006: Ghana 2, United States 1

There were plenty of reasons to believe that this year would finally be different. But there was also a hell of a lot of history to overcome.

I blogged this morning's game on only three hours of sleep. As I've said many times before, I work a night shift editing Philly.com's sports page. So I was in a little bit of a haze for most of the game.

When Rafik Djebbour smashed a shot off Tim Howard's crossbar in the sixth minute, I was spooked - but I did wonder if it might finally be the break the U.S. needed. I really thought so when Clint Dempsey scored, but the goal was wrongly annulled for offside.

Then came the kind of moment I was really afraid of: Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore both tried to shoot the ball on an open net at the same time, and it sailed over the bar. A golden chance had gone begging.

From then on, every time Algeria launched a counter-attack, I thought it would result in the goal that would knock the United States out of the World Cup. But somehow, either the U.S. defense made a stop or Algeria turned the ball over every time.

The clock kept moving. At around the 83rd minute, I looked up at the TV and started to worry that there wasn't going to be a goal. England had a 1-0 lead, and that would be enough to put them and Slovenia through. I figured Slovenia knew that.

Still, I thought it was more likely that Slovenia would score than the United States. Slovenia played with a lot of pride and passion in this World Cup, and surely they would enjoy the praise that would come with sending mighty England home.

A few more minutes ticked away, and there was still no scoring in either game. Fabio Capello had already taken off Wayne Rooney, and then Jermaine Defoe was removed as well. It was time for England to sit on the lead and run the clock out.

Stoppage time arrived, and Algeria started another counterattack. A dangerous-looking cross was sent towards Rafik Saifi, but his header went straight at Tim Howard.

Then came the run to history.

In 12 seconds, the United States went from being toast at the World Cup to being the toast of the World Cup.

If you haven't seen the play yet, or if you want to see it again, the video is below.

It took 90 minutes and 45 seconds to crack Algeria's resistance. In soccer terms, that's a long time. But it took multiple decades to shed the burden of history that the U.S. national team has carried at World Cup.

Now, finally, that's all gone. The past is consigned to being just that. And for once, even the hardened cynics among us have reason to believe.

When Kirk Gibson hit that famous home run in the 1988 World Series, Vin Scully was moved to proclaim that "the impossible has happened."

This time, the possible has happened. It has been a long time coming, and the celebrations that erupted across the country today showed just how much American soccer fans have wanted a moment like this to savor.

It is quite a feeling to be on the good side of history for once.

Ian Darke's call on ESPN



Pablo Ramirez and Jesus Bracamontes' call on Univision



The celebration at the famous Scots Club in Kearny, N.J., which produced former U.S. national team stars John Harkes, Tony Meola and Tab Ramos



The celebration at Lucky Bar in Washington, D.C. The guy with the soul patch and the blue U.S. jersey is an old friend of mine

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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About this blog
The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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