A World Cup wake-up call: John O'Brien scores the United States' first goal in a 3-2 upset of Portugal at the 2002 World Cup in Suwon, South Korea. (Elise Amendola/AP file photo)
Look at the timestamp above.
Where were you at 4:55 a.m. Eastern Time on June 5, 2002?
I know where I was: on the couch in the basement of my parents' house.
(No, I was not a blogger at that point, as obvious a joke as that is. I was a senior in high school, and was only just getting into writing about soccer.)
I had fallen asleep there on purpose, so that I could wake up in front of a television just in time for ESPN's broadcast of the United States men's national team's game against Portugal at the World Cup in Suwon, South Korea.
My alarm clock went off right on schedule. I fumbled through the darkness, hit the remote, and there was the scene: the U.S.' 2002 World Cup opener, live from half a world away.
The game kicked off at 5:00 a.m. When the minute hand on my watch next hit the top of the hour, the U.S. had a 3-0 lead and had sent shockwaves across the planet.
I remember the frenetic phone calls to and from friends at halftime, all of whom were astonished at what we had just seen. And I remember having a hunch that the second half was going to be a roller-coaster of emotions.
It turned out to be just that. The U.S. gave up two goals, then held on for dear life at the end to record a 3-2 wins. The result still stands as one of the greatest victories in American soccer history, right up there with the 1-0 upset of England in 1950.
(Here's a great debate to have at a bar some time. Which was bigger: the win over Portugal in the group stage, or the 2-0 win over Mexico in the Round of 16? I'd say the latter, but the former officially established the United States as a team worthy of international respect.)
When the final whistle blew just before 7 a.m., America woke up to soccer - literally and figuratively. It was a big story not only on SportsCenter, but on all the network morning news programs too.
Sure, the 1994 men's World Cup and the 1999 women's World Cup that the U.S. hosted were big deals. But this felt different: more electric, more serious, more of a true soccer event than just a big spectacle.
I thought it would be neat to take a look back into the Inquirer and Daily News archives at some of the coverage of that game, and that day.
Mike Jensen watched the game at a Portuguese bar in the Olney section of Philadelphia, then talked with Delran, N.J., native Peter Vermes about the importance of the victory. Vermes was playing for the then-Kansas City Wizards at the time, and was two seasons removed from being MLS' defender of the year; now he's Sporting Kansas City's coach.
(Those of you with long enough memories might remember that Mike flew to South Korea after the U.S.-Mexico game to cover the action in person, and stayed there through the semifinals.)
John Smallwood wrote that the win "emphatically announced that the United States will become a soccer power, perhaps even in spite of ourselves."
Even Bill Conlin offered a few words of praise:
Americans who think soccer is a pantywaist sport played by 150-pound foreigners will be required to watch Team USA's brilliant, 3-2, mega-upset of Portugal, the World Cup's No. 5-rated team ... Then tell me the acrobatic header that Brian McBride fired into the net for the third goal wasn't at least as exciting as Shaq's 12th slam of an NBA game ...
I also happened to stumble upon an old U.S. Soccer Federation press release detailing ESPN's coverage plans for the 2002 World Cup.
It is worth remembering that ESPN only broadcast 58 of the 64 World Cup games that year live. The other eight, all on weekends, were broadcast tape-delayed in the afternoon on ABC.
Compare that to how ESPN and ABC produced the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It is a reminder that results on the field are not the only way we can measure the progress of soccer in America.
(And in case you forgot: next Tuesday's World Cup qualifier at Guatemala will not be broadcast on any major television network. Just because there has been progress doesn't mean there isn't more to be made.)
Somewhere in a closet, I have a video tape of the U.S.-Portugal game. I suspect it's in the same closet where I put my VCR, since I don't use it anymore. Maybe some day I'll transfer the footage to a DVD... assuming that medium also doesn't become irrelevant soon.
At least there's plenty of footage on YouTube to sustain us.
First up, we have game highlights called by Univision's Pablo Ramirez and Jesús Bracamontes:
Next, what appears to be the entire ESPN broadcast of the game, with the immortal (for better or worse) commentary by Jack Edwards and Ty Keough:
And finally, something that I only came across for the first time this week. The official FIFA broadcast of the game used commentary from a certain Ian Darke.
Was it an omen of things to come? We can only wonder.