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The Front Row with MARK NELKE June 24, 2010

| June 24, 2010 9:00 PM

Who would have thought we would get so excited about the United States beating Algeria in anything?

However, to some, the World Cup is like the Olympics — it’s us against them — and it doesn’t matter who THEY are. Go, fight, win, U-S-A, and all that.

A tie Wednesday morning would have sent the Americans home — so thank you, Landon Donovan, for your winning goal in stoppage time — and U.S. soccer might have taken a giant step backward.

Sure, we would have railed about the goal against Slovenia and the goal against Algeria that the referee refused to count. But sometimes stuff happens when you go on the road, and good teams overcome that. Not-so-good teams whine.

I’VE ALMOST gotten used to the constant drone of the vuvuzela horns. In fact, we could use a couple around the office to use on deadline if anybody’s got some. Or perhaps they could replace the cowbells as the finish line soundtrack at Ironman.

During the soccer games, however, they drown out whatever crowd noise the other fans are trying to make. You miss the roar after a goal, and the groan of a missed opportunity. It’s like something’s missing from the telecast — like the announcers are calling the game from a studio far, far away, and not live from the site. 

What I’ll probably never get used to is players constantly taking a dive at the slightest contact, as if they’ve been shot. And you notice that most players, after letting out a primal scream and grabbing whatever body part appeared to be wounded, seem to pop up moments later like nothing happened. To be fair, the U.S. players don’t seem to do this all that much, but you can understand why — if you can draw a foul call from an impressionable ref, especially close to the goal, that’s a heckuva advantage to be able to set up a play.

But just as NBA fans grew weary of watching the likes of Bill Laimbeer and Vlade Divac draw offensive fouls by flopping, soccer needs to find a way to govern that form of acting as well.

SOCCER IS still a niche sport, though in certain pockets of the country — perhaps even in North Idaho, with such an enthusiastic youth soccer culture — it’s wildly popular.

U.S. soccer mucky mucks have been trying to convince us — for, what, about 30 years — that their sport is on the rise. But, I think, if you have to convince someone they should like a sport, it’s not there yet. However, in this case, they may be right. Or at least getting closer.

In the early years, we were just hoping the U.S. wouldn’t embarrass itself in international play. Then we were happy for the occasional shot on goal. Now, we’re past the stage of having to rely on, say, an English goalkeeper deflecting a U.S. shot into the goal. The Americans have now shown they can attack, and actually create scoring chances. Who knows if this version of the American Dream will last beyond Saturday, but it’s a lot better than the feeling of not losing a game in the first round of the World Cup, and still not advancing.

Thanks to a team overcoming a little adversity away from home, the U.S. has given us reason to tune in again, and see how long this ride will last.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via e-mail at mnelke@cdapress.com.

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