OK, it wasn’t quite the Miracle on Ice, Part II, but Landon Donovan’s game-winning goal Wednesday was pretty freaking cool.

We, unfortunately, had a previously scheduled engagement with the new cheetah exhibit at the Indianapolis Zoo. So, other than watching the brilliant opening ceremonies, when the US crowd nearly drowned out the PA system signing the national anthem, I was forced to follow the game on my iPhone from the zoo.

M’s taken a mild interest in the World Cup after her soccer experience this spring. She watched part of the US-England game with me. She loves the goalies from various teams that wear all purple. But it’s been tough to keep her interested and try to explain what’s going on.1

Before the game I explained that the US needed to win to keep playing, so this was the most important game. She seemed to grasp the concept, but each time I gave her a score update, she was more interested in what animals we were going to see next. I think you could say that for just about any five-year-old.

We were finishing up, making one last pass by the brown bear exhibit, when I checked the score and saw it was still 0-0 in the 89th minute. England was ahead in their game. It looked like the US was about to crash out of another World Cup and begin a week of screaming by the talking heads back home about how they are tired of having the World Cup shoved down their throats every four years.2

We started walking towards the exit and I pulled my phone out again. It takes a moment for the ESPN Scorecenter app to refresh. It was frozen at the 89th minute, waiting for new data to flow through. Then I saw the magical change in the scoreline: U.S. 1, Donovan 90+, Algeria 0.

“M,” I said, “They scored and the game’s almost over!”

She seemed unimpressed. In her defense, she was tired and hot and sweaty. It was not the coolest of June mornings.

As you know, the score held and the US advanced, winning their group. Now in the Sweet 16 of the World Cup, they face a dangerous but inconsistent Ghana side that eliminated them four years ago in Germany. Win that and a date against the winner of Uruguay and South Korea for a trip to the semifinals. None of those games are gimmes, but they’re certainly a notch below having to play Germany, Argentina, or Spain.

This team makes nothing easy, but they also thrive in the pressure of needing to do something to get the result. After decades of hearing how soccer was the next big sport in the US, the 2010 team has a chance to finally make the impact that could turn at least international-level soccer into an important and popular spectator sport in the States. There’s still a lot of soccer to be played, but the US has produced, arguably, two of the three best goals of the tournament.3 They’ve been involved in two other glaring officiating decisions that could have become the story of the tournament. If nothing else, the US is now a story at the World Cup for what happens on the field, rather than the hype and expectations that surround them.

One thing at a time, though. Let’s kick some Ghananian ass on Saturday.

  1. Haters will probably say it’s tough for anyone to remain interested in a bunch of 0-0 and 1-0 games. I don’t try to convert, I just try to love. You’re missing out. 
  2. If you don’t like it, don’t watch. It is possible, in the age of the internet and 500 channel cable systems, to avoid programming you don’t like. Trust me, I avoided the NBA all winter without too much effort. 
  3. Donovan’s goal against Slovenia was incredible, too.