Wednesday, June 23, 2010

US Soccer's Iconic Moment

Iconic Moments.  How are they defined and by whom?  In sports you need drama.  A big stage.  Tension helps.  Have it be between nations.  An extraordinary finish seals the deal.  They don't come along often.

Hockey had one this year.  The winning goal in the Olympic Gold Medal game was scored in overtime by the best Canadian player against the United States on Canadian soil.  It doesn't get bigger than that.  That one checked all the boxes.

As a nation the United States doesn't have many.  Three of the four sports that dominate the landscape in the U.S. aren't really international sports.  Basketball comes closest.  The iconic moment in basketball happened in Munich in 1972 when the Americans lost to the Soviet Union in one of the most controversial sporting events in history.  When you dominate as the U.S. does one way or another in football, baseball and basketball the iconic games are hard to find.  As a result, for the United States as a nation, there is just one, and it dominates the landscape--The Miracle on Ice.

The events of June 23, 2010 aren't going to push aside those of February 22, 1980.  For one, thirty years ago the Americans were huge underdogs against the Soviets.  In today's soccer match the U.S. was favored to beat Algeria.  And two, it's just too early in the tournament to know how much success this American soccer team will have.  Few remember that the hockey team still had to beat Finland two days later to win the gold medal.  We forget because they did win that game.  We can forget because we know it was the game with the Soviets that mattered.

The memory of today's game will be impacted by the team's future success or failure in this World Cup.  But really, we are just deciding what kind of frame to put around the picture.  The United States Men's National Team just played the most dramatic game in its history.  Others may still be more significant as a moment in time.  A qualifying win to make the 1990 World Cup.  A win over Columbia in 1994 when playing the World Cup on home soil.  Maybe it's beating England in 1950.  Hard to know for sure.  But none were more dramatic.

How dramatic?  Well England had just finished beating Slovenia 1-0, so it was clear with less than five minutes left that the U.S. must win, not tie, to advance to the round of 16.  Check.  A big stage?  In sports, there isn't a bigger stage than the World Cup.  Worldwide the Super Bowl pales in comparison.  Check.  Tension?  For the second game in a row the U.S. had a goal wrongly disallowed by the officials and had wasted numerous fantastic scoring chances during the match.  Check.  A rival nation?  Algeria was the foil, but England was in the group and the results from each team's match directly effected the other.  Check.  An extraordinary finish?  Landon Donovan, the best U.S. player ever, scored a goal in the second minute of stoppage time to lift the U.S. to a 1-0 victory over Algeria and into the knockout round, of the 2010 World Cup.  Check.

As the U.S. moves on in the tournament each game becomes more important.  One game does change everything.  But it will be hard to have a bigger moment at a bigger time on a bigger stage than the U.S. did today.  In 1999 the U.S. Women had an iconic moment, albeit on a much smaller stage.  Today the U.S. Men produced their own.  I imagine if you saw it live, twenty years from now you will remember where you were.

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