It started with what I personally labeled the biggest game in the history of U.S. soccer—the most hyped, the most publicized, the primetime feature of the opening Saturday of the World Cup, the culmination of months and years of anticipation. It was our moment in the radiant sunlight of the American sports world.
Days later there was the greatest crime in the history of U.S. soccer: Koman Coubilaly’s inexplicable whistle broke our hearts. The shadow of that call blighted a courageous fight back that should have seen us in a comfortable position heading into last night.
As it was, I was penning our obituary in my head as the minutes ebbed away against a stubborn Algeria side. Those around me were beginning to come to terms with another goal stolen from us, another early exit and, surely, the recriminations from both. (Could we blame the official yet again when we were guilty of so many missed chances?)
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man” as they say. We were still in the midst of the world’s largest collective sigh of relief after a back post header landed into the grateful hands of Tim Howard when Donovan was released by a throw that harkens to that “other football.” Five touches and 120 yards later, the greatest single moment in the history of U.S. soccer delivered by the greatest player in its pubescent history.
The moments most cherished are those forged in the deepest misery. For the fans, those of us forced to wait 8 years for a win at the World Cup, it was another 90 minutes of squirming before the ultimate payoff, but it could be nothing compared to the depths that Landon Donovan plunged to for his prize. A barracking after a disappointing 2006 World Cup, a public feud with soccer’s most recognizable figure, a divorce last summer. Even his brightest days, a successful stint with Everton, were truncated by a manager that didn’t find his contributions worth the cost to have them on a permanent basis. As a fan (an outsider looking in) I was reduced to tears by the splendor of the moment. So how sweet must it be for him?
“I’ve been on a long journey these last four years,” Donovan mused after the match. “I’ve been through a lot and I’m so glad it culminated this way.” I echo the general arch of the sentiment but argue that it’s premature to label yesterday a culmination. Donovan will have another chance to chase away his demons when the U.S. take on Ghana in the round of 16. Ghana, of course, are the very team that unceremoniously dumped the U.S. out of World Cup 2006. A dive in the box by Ghanaian forward Razak Frimpong gifted them the go ahead goal on an unjust penalty.
Like everyone else here in South Africa, I would have liked to have seen African teams do well, but now that it’s only Ghana standing (barring a miracle for the Ivory Coast) I hope Donovan’s redemption continues.
That is what I love about soccer - 92 minutes of agony, frustration and hope culminating in the biggest celebration.
Posted by Your dad on 06/24/2010
Excellent work! Luda, thank you for offering Tim Howard credit where it was definitely due: save to instant outlet, a thing of beauty. ESPN execs, next game needs new play-by-play announcers, though; they absolutely missed whence the goal began. Check out ESPN on Twitter... Edu needs end the Tweeting (How many messages can one post in a day, really?) and get back to playing defense. Ultimately, the rewards go to those who focus, think, and hustle. Landon Donovan, thank you for showing the world how it's done.
Posted by Cathi on 06/24/2010
Euphoric and hoarse! I am still on cloud 9. Happiest 91st minute ever.
Posted by wersy on 06/24/2010
It's funny when you put a video from ESPN on a ESPN blog and then ESPN comes in and blocks it:)
Congrats for the win from Poland, but please, especially in the moments like this, don't forget about what happened in the match with Slovakia and about that dissallowed goal from the first half of this "biggest game". Remember that FIFA needs you. MAKE IT VERY CLEAR THAT YOU DON'T AND NEVER WILL accept such absymal level of refereeing, even if they suddenly start to "commit mistakes" on your favour. It may sound cheap, but America is our only hope. We in Europe have probably just got used to this kind of horrible officiating and although someone rants about it from time to time, FIFA knows that we would never stop following the game whatever happens; they also blatantly screw the smaller nations. But FIFA wants the money, US has it, so it's up to set the standards. And America does, it may benefit us all all over the world.
Posted by Eric V on 06/24/2010
It's not my usual stance to defend refs, but a close offsides call is nearly impossible to make. I think in both cases (vs Algeria and Slovenia), the correct call was made, albeit by a slim margin.
I think its comical how quickly we move to victimize ourselves, when the root of our dispair is in our own inadequecy and growing expectations.
Us Americans love to point the finger; lets not turn into English soccer fans, because its not long before the finger is pointed at our own players and the paralyzing fear of failure eclipses the desire to succeed.
Posted by Eric V on 06/24/2010
And yes Luda's dad, I also loathe John Harkes. MUTE.
Posted by Dean on 06/24/2010
USA !!! USA !!! A stone lifted from so many hearts when the US team finally scored !!! OH MY GOD ! I STILL CAN HARDLY BELIEVE IT ! THEY ARE ONE OF THE TOP 16 BEST TEAMS IN THE WORLD NOW !!! It was amazing !!! THE BEST OF LUCK TO THAT AMAZING TEAM ON SUNDAY !!! FIGHT ON ! ! ! YIHAA !!!!!
Posted by Almost a Bears Fan on 06/24/2010
I screamed so loud my co-workers thought I was having the big one in my office! Hollywood could not have scripted a better finish for Donovan. All his pain and years of torment and misunderstanding came to a head in one beautiful moment. It must have been like slow motion to him. It really is poetic that he was the hero and not Bradley, Dempsey, Altidore or others. Landon is truly the leader of this team, and in spite of too many defensive breakdowns and some lackluster halves, there seems to be a semi-mystical quality about this American team and they way they pull together when they need to. The knock-out round will show us how far that cohesiveness will go when faced with better talent and experience. Well done Luda. Espn should be proud of your work. Enjoy the moment until 'Reality Saturday'.
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Luda Hoe will literally be following the beautiful game to South Africa. You can read more on his thoughts and follow his African adventure at LoveSoccer-WillTravel.com.