When Clint Dempsey scored a gift goal at the 40th minute of the United States opening match-up to get level with England, the fortunes of the Americans may have changed. The contest finished in a 1-1 draw and both clubs received a point, but it meant a lot more to the US than it did the Brits.
After falling behind one-to-nil at only the four minute mark, the US could have folded early. But they kept pressing and stayed in the game with some brilliant saves by keeper Tim Howard, who was selected as the Man of the Match. Taking advantage of a huge break when English keeper Robert Green misplayed Dempsey’s shot, the US made it stand throughout a scoreless second half.
Now the Americans need to keep up their solid play throughout the rest of the openers to advance to the knockout round. Anything less than that and they will be right back where they started as far as getting respect on an international level. The US has been the trendsetter for so many sports but soccer has been one that they just can’t seem to crack.
It is not as if they have not tried, though. Not one but two professional major leagues have been formed (NASL, MLS) and has attracted perhaps the world’s biggest stars of their time (Pele, David Beckham). But while that has created a buzz stateside, the international community still does not see the US as a threat. Every four years, they have the opportunity to change that perception and need to make their move.
They have put together a talented squad that should go further than their 2006 counterparts, who went 0-1-2 to fall out of the tourney after the opening round in Germany. But they need to play at their best and get a break like they did on Saturday. If that happens, then we may finally start putting the US in the same conversation with the elite countries of the world in soccer.