It's finally settling in now. The 92nd minute goal, the ensuing madness, the realization that we won our group, all of it. Before I will even be able to really fully appreciate it, the anxiety will begin again. In a little over 24 hours, the U.S. will face off against Ghana with a place in the quarterfinals at stake. If you’re the U.S. National Team, now is not the time to bask in self-satisfaction. As fans, however, we better indulge while we can. As this team has shown time and again, there is no such thing as comfortable viewing once the ball is kicked off.
With that in mind, let me take this day of relative peace to revel in their achievements, which are considerable. Savor these facts, American fans:
-World Cup first time we've won our group.
-5 points is our best return from the group stage. This is also the first time we've ever gone undefeated through the group stage and will be the first time we leave the World Cup without having more losses than wins.
-The 1-0 win against Algeria was the first clean sheet since 1950. Clean sheet, by the way, is soccer speak for shutout. Our sheets have previously been soiled.
-Donovan’s last-gasp goal against Algeria was the first ever injury time goal scored by the U.S. at the World Cup.
-The United States have led for a total of 2 minutes and 29 seconds so far in this World Cup and still won their group.
-Though our defense failed to keep our linens tidy in the first two matches, they still haven't conceded in the second half of any game.
Man of the Cup (so far): Tim Howard
Yeah, there’s that Donovan guy who scored that goal but consider that he would have never even had the chance had Howard not 1. been perfectly positioned to deny Saifi’s wide open back post header and 2. been alert enough to quickly release Donovan into space. Those are the intangibles that make the razor thin difference between going through as group winners and going home early.
If we’re to be picky, you could say that Howard should have done better with Slovenia’s second goal, but even taking that into consideration, he’s been the best goalkeeper of the tournament so far (and by some distance in my opinion). On top of the several crucial saves he’s made Howard has also expertly managed a defense that, leading up to the tournament, hardly got to play together competitively, started several counter attacks with his distribution and dominated his penalty area.
But of course, if you were to argue Landon Donovan, you wouldn’t be wrong, either. I guess the Donovan praise is just getting boring.
Dud of the Cup (so far): Clint Dempsey
This is probably harsh considering he scored against England and had a perfectly good goal chalked off against Algeria, but if the U.S. are to advance Dempsey has to make more of his chances than he has so far.
This shouldn't be seen as a cheap shot on Dempsey, though. Playing poorly for long stretches only to come alive when the chips are down has been patented by "Deuce." I wouldn't even really call him a dud; I like to think he's just saving his chances for the biggest stage.
That I'm struggling to think of others who have poorly enough to merit this tag is a very good sign. (Ricardo Clark, Jose Torres, Robbie Findley? Might be harsh on any one of them).
The first and surely not the last WWII reference of the weekend:
From a British friend: "It’s turning out like World War II, this World Cup. The French surrender early, you boys come through last minute and we’re left to fight the Germans." You can add the Italians folding to that analogy.
Enjoy the jokes and cheeky British humor while you can. In a day's time, the laughs end and the drama starts again. Enjoy your day of calm, my friends.