Notes From Wonderland: Open Letter to US Soccer

Dear US Soccer Team,<BR> We haven't always been there for you, but some of us were there this morning. We don't know you, not like we know our other stars. We know Kobe Bryant. We know Randy Johnson. We know Kurt Warner. We don't know Brad Friedel. We don't know Brian McBride. We don't know you yet…but we might. A week ago I knew the names of less than six of the players on the team, but there I was at 2:00 a.m. watching a sport I largely ignore.

We haven't treated you well. You don't play one of OUR sports. You don't play baseball, you don't play basketball and you don't play football. At least not OUR football. You don't even play Canada's game. We like hockey, at least a little bit.

Even though our nation's youth plays your game, we ignore you. Maybe when the captain of the soccer team dates the head cheerleader we'll take notice. Maybe when Eddie Pope dates Brittany Spears, we'll accept you. In Europe footballers are gods, in America they are guys who couldn't make the "real" teams.

I ignored you for three years, but last night I watched. I don't support your pro leagues, but last night I watched. I can't name three players for the DC United, but last night I watched.

I watched and I am so glad I did.

Portugal was all the rage. They have one of the best players in the world. They are an offensive machine. They have a nation glued to their every move. Many had them as a trendy pick to win the cup. This morning they are 0-1 and have their work cut out for them.

You were the underdogs. America loves the underdogs. Everyone always counts America out. Everyone always thinks they can bring us down. They can't bring our nation down and for one night they couldn't bring our team down.

We may not show you love, but we are proud. Most of us did not watch, but today we know. You may still have to move overseas to ply your trade, but for a few days you will be heroes.

I was at the edge of my seat at 1:55. I was into the game. For an hour and a half I was a soccer fan. My girlfriend thought I was crazy for staying up. "You don't even like soccer," she said. "Tape the game."

I tried to tell her it wasn't about soccer. It was about America. It was about passion. It was about us. It was about the greatest nation in the world proving that we were good at the world's game, even if it isn't our game.

I thought about rolling tape. The VCR was cued up. The remote was close by. It wasn't necessary. Three minutes into the game John O'Brien put a deflection into the back of the net. I jumped up, arms in the air. I looked just like the guy on the Circuit City commercial. I was hooked.

America slept, I watched.

One goal. Then another. Finally a third. I watched them all. America slept, America mocked and I watched.

In the 29th minute a Landon Donovan pass deflected off a Portuguese defender and the United States led 2-0. This time I yelled. My dogs took notice and we did an impromptu dance. I know it is silly, but it felt right.

My mind was racing, "2-0 is good, but can they hang on? Is this a fluke?" The Portuguese pitiful play on defense couldn't last. They'd eventually get on track and put some balls in the net. I was worried. I haven't seen a soccer game since the last World Cup, but I was worried.

Then for the third time an American player beat the Portuguese defense. It was 3-0. The dogs and I were dancing. They didn't know what was happening, America didn't know what was happening. America slept and I danced.

Americans don't understand soccer. We don't understand the players taking dives. We don't understand why a player is carted off on a stretcher and is back in the game a moment later. In America if an athlete needs a stretcher he better be hurt. If a football player is taken out on a stretcher, we worry if he will play again this season.

We are not a nation of finesse. We are a nation of instant gratification. We don't understand soccer's pace or artistry. We understand the slam-dunk, not the bicycle kick. We understand the home run, not the corner kick. We don't like any game to involve "nil".

Our fans were in Korea. Sam's Army they call themselves. They seem to love the sport, but they are not typical soccer fans. They don't sing the songs. Most countries have songs for each player and each occasion. Not the USA. We sing, "nah-nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah-nah, hey-hey-hey, goodbye" when the game is almost over.

We looked and acted like Americans. There were cheeseheads in the crowd. Up 2-0 the crowd started chanting, "Overrated, overrated." It sounded more like an NCAA basketball venue, not soccer's grandest stage. Throughout the game they chanted, "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A." I don't hear the other countries chanting their nation's name.

We are proud of our country. Now we are proud of you. America may have been sleeping, but this morning they are taking notice.

The final 55 minutes were gut wrenching. Portugal scored before the half and were only down 3-1. Midway through the second half Jeff Agoos sent a ball into his own net. Suddenly it was 3-2. Suddenly we had a game. They had to hang on, didn't they?

Portugal kept attacking. They kept getting chances. Our players looked tired. They were cramping up. With 5:00 left the Portuguese kept the ball in our end. It was getting tense. Then something happened. America took control. We got the ball in their end and never let it go. We stalled in the corners. We attacked the net. We kept coming. We won.

After the match I was spent. Not just because it was 4:00 a.m., but because I was into it. I was enthralled. I may not be a soccer convert, but for one month I'll be a die hard.

The bandwagon will start up today. People will watch when you face South Korea. Win that one and America will care about soccer…at least for a month.

America will watch, but I watched.

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