Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Frankly Speaking: Do or Die

This is it. Do or die. Sink or swim. Round of 16 or heading home in embarrassing fashion to the disappointment of millions.

The U.S. is one win away from competing in the knockout phase, a single elimination battle royal that will determine the World Cup champion. No scoreboard watching for goal differentials - one win and you're in.

I would have doubled down last December if told the U.S. would only need a win against Algeria to reach the Round of 16. Algeria? C'mon now, seriously? That's it? No problemo.

Why then do I have the sweaty palms of a teenager awkwardly standing on the doorstep after a first date? So close to scoring, yet so far away.

The U.S. should beat Algeria. The game should be a relative cakewalk if FIFA on XBox player ratings hold true. (If only it were that simple, a couple taps of the "A" button followed by a slight hold-and-release of "B" and voila, goals galore.)

Maybe it's the first 45 minutes of uninspiring soccer the U.S. played against Slovenia or perhaps it's the porous back line, but I'm going to lose some sleep tonight waiting for what is one of the most significant matches in U.S. Soccer history.

Let's be real here, Corporate America has tossed some serious weight at soccer over the last few months. Millions of dollars have been spent on commercials with the world's biggest stars, pumping up the American public for what Nike, adidas and ESPN promised with $$$ would be an amazing tournament.

Here's the cold truth: No matter how many players Lionel Messi jukes or how many goals Wayne Rooney scores, what every American is aching to see is U.S. success.

I've heard my dad's soccer analysis enough to know that wins are what matter. Win and U.S. Soccer has a captive audience for at least one more match. Lose and every middle-of-the-road soccer fan will say, "The U.S. always chokes at the World Cup."

It's time for U.S. Soccer to step up to expectations or spend another four years wondering, "What if?"

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