June 24, 2010
American Soccer Players Are New Heroes
Jeff Klein at The New York Times Soccer Blog has gathered a wonderful video collection of 17 celebrations around the country (many of them here in California). Most of them are either after Landon Donovan's stoppage time goal or post-match, but this one from San Diego actually starts a few seconds before the goal so it captures the false start after Dempsey's kick into the goalkeeper, an intake of breath, then the explosion. It's just what it felt like at Nickies in the Lower Haight and one imagines all over the country.
This intense interest in the World Cup is more about national pride than a new-found love of soccer. Hopefully interest in the game will continue to grow for kids and their parents, because of all the team sports it's the one that will produce the highest degree of physical fitness, which according to statistics we desperately need to provide for our young.
It's even easy to imagine highly competitive high school soccer in more parts of the country but the economics and the low scoring will prevent the game from catching on at the professional spectator level. However, the United States international team could continue to improve dramatically as more and more kids go to play in the European leagues after they leave school.
Whatever happens later, for now it sure is great to get up at 5:30 in the morning and to go find a pub to share this team with others. It's also fantastic to play well in the world's game. Take a look at the bottom of the NYT blog's game play-by-play. It was a joy to read all the well-wishing comments from around the world.
It feels, too, that this team which plays a foreign game has an iconic American hero. Donovan is slight, without much swagger to him. He spends most of his time running, and his rush up the field on the winning goal was breathtaking. But he is most compelling when he stands still.
When Donovan is poised before the ball at a corner kick or a free kick he has an air of quiet certainty, alertness and complete self-possession. His confidence and attention radiate to his teammates and to all of us.
There's a little Tom Hanks in these photos, but when he is surveying the pitch before kicking the ball into play it is more like Gregory Peck, as if Atticus Finch were a coach whose job is to integrate a high school team in the 1960s American South.
He tells us with his eyes that he's going to get it done. A hero makes people say "That's what I want to be like." Donovan inspires that.
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