Special to Page 2
Day 10: June 10, 3:15 p.m., some meditations On football in America
After spending most of the day writing the crap in the previous two reports (Day 8 and Day 9), I head over to the media center to watch the vital U.S.-South Korea game. I find myself sitting -- OK, deliberately -- next to the same Italian journalist from Saturday. During the national anthems, I notice, -- how could I not? -- Clint Mathis' ridiculous Mohawk. Hardly original, I think, but I'm sure it will get him on SportsCenter. I was going to do the World Cup All-Hair 11 for one of next week's diaries, but there's just way too much hair color, too many Mohawks, too many new shaggy mullets to make it anything special. Just look at the Nigerians ... I am awakened from my hirsute rant by my Italian "friend."
"Theese Americans," he hisses, "they are about to learn a lot about the football,. The Koreans, they are rapido you know, they will run them around in the circles."
I decide to confuse him by speaking very quickly and with long words. "Perhaps," I reply "though you might err in your complete estimation of the relative swiftness of the juvenile exterior halves, DaMarcus (Beasley) and Landon (Donovan), and their inherent self-confidence as representatives of an impending generation of American athletes who esteem the concept of failure as essentially foreign."
Or something like that.
Whatever, he shuts up and we watch the game.
The Media Center, halftime, United States 1, South Korea 0, 4:17 p.m.
The game is about as pretty as Clint Mathis and his new haircut. A rather nice English writer, an exception (I think he edits World Soccer, a tremendous publication), says Mathis looks like something you could pick up by the ankles and mow your lawn with.
But didn't he take his goal well!
With South Korea temporarily down to 10 men (that's the first time anyone has needed stitches after clashing with the mighty Frankie Hejduk, who, like Brian McBride, does that funny, girly thing with his arms), the tireless and always inventive John O'Brien accelerated unchallenged down the middle and chipped a perfect left-footed ball to Mathis just inside the box. Played onside by the Korean left back, the highly valued U.S. soprano (you should hear his voice) controlled it deftly with the inside of his right boot and buried it with his left. Net ripples. More than 60,000 Koreans not that happy.
Other than that, it was, let's face it, mostly South Korea. They missed a penalty, though I'm not sure what Jeff Agoos actually did wrong, apart from being, well, The Goose (but I still love him). And in virtually the opening minute, the hapless Ki Hyeon Seol almost reinvented the laws of geometry with an over-the-bar angled volley from three yards.
But that's what football's like. It turns on moments.
Brad Friedel's a tidy 'keeper, though, and he's made Bruce Arena look like a genius for picking him over Kasey Keller. More than a tidy 'keeper, on days like this he looks as good as his manager at Blackburn, Graeme Souness, thinks he is -- one of the best in the world.
The halftime show is awesome. The feed from Korea that comes into the press room features a kid dressed as a Korean devil next to a granddad dribbling a ball on his head. I do not miss "The Osbournes."
The Pigeon Holes, International Media Center, final score 1-1, 5:35 p.m.
At the final whistle, dozens of loud cheers resound through the press room. Not. I clap, and I hear one other muffled cheer. Football writers truly seem to hate this team. I wonder why. If soccer manages to succeed in the United States, it would be so healthy for the game, and more than that, the United States is starting to find its own swaggering, offensively minded style of football.
My suspicion is that just as part of the reason for the rejection of football in the United States is that it is the rest of the world's game, the rest of the world would bloody well like to keep it that way. Many nations are so sick of being constantly beaten by the hyper-coached, prepared and confident Americans at everything from tennis to track and field to cycling to volleyball (ironically, events the United States does not care about that much) that they just want one thing that they can't be beaten at.
But that won't be possible anymore. The United States has emerged and arrived as a football nation, and I believe we have just seen the beginning. There's nothing the anti-U.S. soccer crowd, foreign or American, could do to stop this. And this is something the anti-soccer crowd in the United States should consider -- your greatest allies in your anti-soccer arguments are foreigners who loathe America.
Here comes the rant. This has been building up for years.
And to those who say that soccer will never catch on in the United States and compete in prime time against the other big sports, I say, "Who cares?" Is competitive cycling a big TV sport ... but how dominant is Lance Armstrong? How much do Americans watch track and field ... but did that hurt Ed Moses or Michael Johnson?
However, I do think Americans should ask themselves if, in a nation that claims to have discovered a new-found sense of universal patriotism, we are going to continue to allow the U.S. team to play home games in Los Angeles in front of 90,000 fans screaming for Mexico. I have witnessed that, on home soil, watching the U.S. team almost universally booed as it walked on the field. It made me feel sick to my stomach, opposing fans attempting to urinate on them. But worse, though, is the fact nobody cares. These U.S. players are about as heroic as you can get in sports. They are not pampered or overpaid, and most of them, perhaps all of them, never will be.
It is the anti-soccer crowd in the United States who are failing to understand the fundamental rule of sports. You cheer for your team. You wankers will cheer for your hometown team in the so-called "World Series," but when the actual world comes calling, you fail to cheer for your country. Who needs you?
Rant over, for now.
I pick up the match stats. Korea had 57 percent of the possession, took 19 shots to the Americans' six, led seven corner kicks to zero, and obviously missed a penalty.
But there's only one statistic that matters. One point each. The Korean goal was inevitable and superbly taken by Jung Hwan Ahn in the 78th minute. Jeff Agoos should not hang his majestically coifed head for being beaten to the ball. He and the rest of the back line defended superbly in the second half. The announcer on the press room feed described how the Koreans needed to "prise open the U.S. defense." For those of us who have followed this U.S. team for a while, how nice to hear that is has to be prised. Usually, it just needs to be looked at funny.
We have to wait until tonight to see the result of the Portugal-Poland game, but four points just might be good enough to see the U.S. through to the second round. A draw against Poland would get them there for sure.
It was not a great performance. Donovan, especially, never looked comfortable out on the right. But sometimes you don't need to be great, you just need to get the job done.
Look at England.
Look at this and recent columns.
The ratings had better be good for the U.S. game or tomorrow I'll be really angry.Michael Davies, a native of London, is executive producer of ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He'll be filing five diary entries per week from the World Cup for Page 2.
Complete 2002 World Cup coverage
Davies Day 9: Cheering for jolly old Nippon
Davies Day 8: Nobody knows anything
Davies Day 7: Soccer is the curse of the drinking class
Davies Day 6: I've got your U.S. boys' backs
Davies Day 5: Turning Japanese
Davies Day 4: Satellite Stadium, take a bow
Davies Day 3: Where's the passion?
Davies Day 2: Ga-ga over the boys in green
Davies Day 0 and Day 1: The 'other' football
Take the World Cup quiz: No. 1