I guess I should've seen it coming.
For about 90 minutes during the USA's last World Cup soccer game, I kept waiting for the Americans to score a goal. They had many chances. Algeria, their opponent, was very obliging. Time after time, our guys would kick, or head, or nudge the ball somehow at the goal, sometimes from ridiculously short distances. And after about 90 minutes these professionals, who do nothing but practice putting the ball in the net, couldn't do so.
For sure earlier in the game they had scored a goal that the referee waved off questionably. So it wasn't as if they hadn't scored at all. But the point was, they could've scored multiple goals, if only they'd actually put their mind to it.
Then, in "injury" or "stoppage" time (after the first 90 minutes-- "overtime," as a student of mine aptly put it), Algeria finally committed some people forward and almost scored themselves. Tim Howard, the American goalkeeper, threw the ball out to Landon Donovan, the American star soccer player. He passed ahead to striker Jozy Altidore, who gave it to the much-talked about Clint Dempsey right in front of the goalmouth. Dempsey didn't have much time and he kicked it right at the goalkeeper. It rebounded out and Donovan was there to bash it over the prone goalie and into the net.
The announcers went wild, calling it a "fairy-tale ending, a Hollywood ending."
It was as if the American team had conspired to write a myth that would be sure to thrill their American audience. How many movies end this way, with the amazing finish that lifts an underdog to the status of a champion?
And everyone bit on the storyline. In a baseball chatroom I sometimes frequent, the normally jaded and cynical participants were saying, "I thought soccer was supposed to be boring" or "I'm committed to the World Cup now" or "That was the best game I've ever seen."
Later, American goalkeeper Tim Howard summed up the mythological impact on the nation: "That's probably going to capture more people's attention than if we won the game 3-0 and it was easy. That emotion, that passion is what American sports fans thrive on."
Perception is everything. This was a pretty simple game against an opponent the USA should beat. And it had the chance of being an easy 3-0 game. The fact that eventually the Americans got the job done, to me, is more like the propensity in American business of procrastinating until the last minute and then finally delivering the service that could've been done and finished hours or days before.
I am a fan of USA soccer and I would've loved to see another "Miracle on Ice" type of game. This wasn't the moment or the opponent. But the team kind of conspired with the broadcasters to manufacture some myth. Nice for them, nice for the status of soccer in the United States.
PS: for a real "Miracle on Ice" story from the World Cup, try Italy versus Slovakia. The Italians were the reigning world champions, and tiny Slovakia (independence 1992, population 5 million, area the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined) beat the pants off of them, 3-2.