In Sports Commentary

It was all smiles after the Americans advanced with a 91st-minute goal from Landon Donovan.

World Cup Recap: USA 1, Algeria 0

I stood behind a frustrated woman wearing a Clint Dempsey jersey. She had had enough.

"It should be like, 4-0!" she said, sharing the sentiments of a packed bar at The Highbury this morning.

We had all witnessed the USA miss multiple chances to break a scoreless draw with Algeria in a match the Americans needed to win to advance to the last 16 and time was growing short.

There were few casual fans among us. I had been among hundreds of people for a Saturday match with England and last Friday's contest with Slovenia. But anyone who creates time on a Wednesday morning to watch the World Cup is truly devoted.

This was a group full of hope. Three guys wearing oversized Uncle Sam hats stood near the back of the bar leading the throng in the Highbury American anthem. It's sung to the tune of Ricky Nelson's 60's hit, "I Will Follow You."

We love you, we love you, we love you
And where you go we'll follow, we'll follow, we'll follow
We're here to cheer the U.S.! The U.S.! The U.S.!
And that's the way we like it! We like it! We like it!

This might seem a little corny on the printed page but trust me; if you're there, it's rousing stuff.

In the true spirit of partisanship, the patrons were grasping to say anything negative about the Algerian team.

"They don't even know their own anthem," was the most biting comment I heard, spoken over a shot of the African squad not singing while their national anthem played at the start of the game.

"I don't know what it's like back home but I'm very tense," said play-by-play announcer Ian Darke.

I can assure you, Ian. It was very tense back home, particularly in this corner of Bay View. It got a whole lot more tense when Algeria's Rafik Djebbour hit a rocket off the crossbar in the sixth minute. The U.S. barely avoided playing from behind again. It appeared the Americans would take their first lead of the tournament when Dempsey scored off a pass from the wonderfully-named Herculez Gomez, but Dempsey was ruled offside. Replays showed the call was incorrect.

That, coupled with Maurice Edu's disallowed winner against Slovenia and many other near misses today and you had to wonder if Team USA was feeling cursed; doomed to a 0-0 result and an early trip home.

Color analyst and former U.S. national player John Harkes flagrantly flouted the "no cheering in the press box rule," doing some on-the-air coaching.

"The U.S. needs to show more patience. They have to attack but must be careful not to get too many men forward and get caught on the counter," Harkes repeatedly announced words to that effect during the telecast.

It was 0-0 at halftime. People at the bar talked nervously about things other than the game, whistling past the graveyard. Scoreless in the 60th minute. The 70th. The 80th.

England, meanwhile, led Slovenia 1-0. The U.S. players would get no help from the central European side. They needed to score a goal.

Still scoreless in the 90th minute. If it had ended at this point, the lasting image most American fans would take away from the cup would have been Coach Bob Bradley's oft-photographed grimaces at his team's near misses.

But then suddenly, it wasn't 0-0 anymore.

In the 91st minute, Josey Altidore led a breakaway. His shot was deflected by Dempsey to Algerian keeper Rais Bolihi. Bolihi made the save but left a rebound on the doorstep for Landon Donovan, who poked in the game-winner, rescuing his team who were just minutes from elimination.

The crowd at the Highbury cried out for joy, jumping around like it was the start of the fourth quarter at Camp Randall, high-fiving total strangers, getting soaked by a beer shower that drenched nearly everyone. The last time I witnessed unleashed emotion like this in person was when I was in the stands at Miller Park for Ryan Braun's late September 2008 walk-off grand slam that kept the Brewers' playoff hopes alive.

The importance of Donovan's goal cannot be overstated. Had the U.S. players not scored, they would have been sent home to an American sports audience that in large part is skeptical about soccer. And they would have been dispatched by a scoreless draw, the life blood of that skepticism.

Instead it was a thrilling finish that will become an iconic moment in our nation's athletic history. And by advancing to the last 16, the Americans now gain legitimacy on the world stage among the sport's superpowers.

It should have been like 4-0, but 1-0 will do just fine.


Talkbacks

wiscoleeds | June 25, 2010 at 4:54 p.m. (report)

I am right here...and I STAND corrected. The USA has improved with not every game but every half. I don't want to jinx Bradley and the boys but I think they should beat Ghana. Thankfully England are in the same boat with a steady improvement. I'm also hopeful against a young German team. The biggest plus of all is that England now play on Sunday so their game doesn't clash with my all day binge at Alpine Valley to see Jimmy Buffett. Thanks for calling me out. I have been completely wrong about the USA so far at this World Cup and long may it continue. Cheers Wiscoleeds

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Hckyboy00 | June 24, 2010 at 4:29 a.m. (report)

Where is my guy wiscoleeds? I had to do a bit of digging, but sure enough, one wiscoleeds said himself on Feb 25th "Bradley will do well to win one game in SA. If the USA qualify out of the group stage then I'll stand corrected, if not, fire Bradley and bring in a World Class coach with the experience to take the USA where it wants to go and who looks beyond the "old boy" element." I will give you credit, as we both believed the US could win a game in the group stage, but in all reality, we both know it should have been 2. My oh my, how wrong we were. Not to blow my own vuvuzula, but here was my prediction, made the very next day, "They will draw against England (who historically underachieve at the WC, and always start very slowly) and can get a win out of either of the [other] teams while drawing the other." OH MY! and the US finishes atop the Group, with 1 win, and 2 draws! I don't know what you own me, but i accept beers and apologies. Incredible heart from the stars and stripes, and i love our chances against Ghana. A lot of people seem to think S. Korea are going to walk over Uruguay, but i'm not sure i believe that quite yet.

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