JUST BREW IT: Feeling the heat of the World Cup from Warrenton
I’m going to try to see if my in-laws want to watch the USA’s next World Cup soccer match with me.
They’re driving up from Tampa Thursday, and will be here for the weekend.
My father-in-law is an excellent athlete, a scratch golfer with a 2 handicap in his prime, a man who set a basketball single game scoring record at Wellington High School in Ohio way back in the1950s.
But soccer? I don’t think he was ever into the world's most popular game, but he is by no means a lost cause.
We live in a different time now, as American soccer has made tremendous advancements both in skill level and spectator interest. Lots of new fans have been drawn to the sport, as evidenced by the national rejoicing at the USA’s 2-1 World Cup victory over Ghana Monday night in Natal, Brazil.
Millions and millions of Americans are committed to the World Cup for several reasons. As generations turn over, we as Americans become more global, and gear up for events that bring the world together.
Our U.S. soccer team has come so far in the last 20 years and we are proud of them.
As a long-time soccer fan and former soccer writer at USA TODAY, I can speak from personal experience that I’ve seen a sea change.
It was only 15 years ago, but I remember the foolish arguments that would ensue at work with all the other reporters making mocking jokes about soccer in general.
While I wanted to defend the sport, it was tough to do, and I mostly let it go. Back then our U.S. national team was still lightly followed and not very competitive, and our fledgling domestic league MLS was not yet established.
In 1998 in France our U.S. team bombed, absolutely stunk up the joint, largely because we really weren’t very good.
In thinking back on those days, it seemed hard for the U.S. to put a truly competitive offensive sequence of two or three nifty passes together. We lacked the players with dribbling skill and personality that we have now. The game plan back then was to play stout defense and hope for a goal of some kind, which is a fine strategy when you're an underdog.
But there's no doubt our guys lacked offensive firepower and were two notches below most world clubs.
The fact that 32-year-old Landon Donovan — the greatest player our country has ever produced — was left off the team this year is proof we’re moving forward at a rapid pace as a national program.
While I’ve loved Donovan’s contributions in three World Cups, I trust coach Jurgen Klinsmann. This isn’t the time to put someone on the field for sentiment. Save that for baseball’s All-Star Game where an aging legend like Derek Jeter can get all the love he deserves.
So, what did we think of Monday’s win against Ghana?
The game was like a great 90-minute movie, taking us through so many ups and downs. We scored in the first minute and had to survive attack after attack. When Ghana finally tied it, I was prepared to root for a draw. Then John Brooks scored off an electrifying corner kick and we held on to win.
My plans to watch were delayed by a little traffic on I-29, and I got home three minutes too late to see Clint Dempsey’s great opening goal. I heard the Dempsey score on the radio pulling into my driveway.
While seeing it live would have been ideal, Brooks' strike made up for it.
Now we look forward to Portugal Sunday — hopefully with my in-laws Keith and Alice joining me on the sofa at around 6 p.m.
“That may be the first soccer game they ever watch,” quipped my wife.
I can't guarantee my in-laws will be riveted. But I and much of America will be.
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