An opening game against England gives the USA an opportunity of a lifetime
Will World Cup fever sweep the USA this summer? Hardly. Americans – remember there are over 308 million of them – are not ready for that level of fandom. But with each World Cup the interest grows and the expectations become more knowledgeable.
For the huge army of American sports – but not necessarily soccer – fans, the World Cup looms larger and larger, an event that has a unique flavour as it kindles national esteem in a way that no other sport can. Everyone remembers the “Miracle on Ice” of the 1980 Olympics, when the USA beat Russia 4-3 at ice hockey and went on to win the gold. That is the “impossible dream” yardstick. If it can be done in ice hockey, why not in soccer?
The better-informed fans certainly expect the USA to advance. That makes sense. The team are in one of the weaker groups, they are experienced and well-prepared – and have the stigma of a poor performance four years ago to live down. Against that will be the age factor – the likely starting XI will have an average age of around 26 and a half years, some two years younger than most World Cup-winning teams (Italy, the current champions, had an average age of over 29 and a half in 2006).
After the first round maybe it’s Germany, and the USA have a score to settle there, too – that narrow loss in the 2002 World Cup, the penalty they should have had, and so on. If it’s not Germany, then it will be Serbia, Ghana or Australia, all beatable. So a round-of-16 berth seems the minimum objective.
After that it depends on whether you think the USA’s results in the Confederations Cup last year were for real. If they were, then they have a chance against anyone in the last eight. If they were one-off minor miracles, the team will be going home by the end of June.
Press and TV coverage will be at an all-time high right from the start, with the first game against England almost tailor-made for an upset like that of the 1980 ice hockey. After all, it did happen 60 years ago, when the US beat England 1-0 in the 1950 World Cup.
Wins over Slovenia and Algeria will mean little to the average American fan, but a win over England could spark immense interest – and unreal hopes, of course.
The view from the USA
“This marks the USA’s sixth straight World Cup appearance, but they have won only two group-stage games in the previous five tournaments. Optimism, thanks to a kind draw, is tempered by a lack of depth – especially in the back line, but Bob Bradley’s men should still be able to squeak into the second round.”
Mike Woitalla, executive editor of Soccer America magazine
“The easiest group we’ve ever drawn. If we don’t advance it will be a disappointment and a failure. Against England we’ll be the underdogs, a role we love to play. And if we can’t find a way to get points against Algeria and Slovenia, we should give our spot to Ireland.”
Alexi Lalas, former USA defender and now commentator with ESPN