PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 01: Landon Donovan midfielder of US national soccer kicks the ball during training on June 1, 2010 in Pretoria, South Africa. US will face England for their World Cup opener on June 12. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Landon Donovan
FIFA RANK: 14
Have you ever heard of a "Maalox Moment" in sports? It's that stomach turning, gut wrenching feeling you get when your team is locked into a Game 7 or an NFL playoff game. The moment when you can't stand to see the final outcome, but can't turn away. It's do or die and there is no tomorrow. That's the way I feel about this US national soccer team this summer in South Africa.
I know what you're saying...dude, you need help, its just soccer. But the World Cup is different, it only comes around once every four years and for the first time I can remember, Uncle Sam's Army goes in with dare I say ... high expectations?
20 years ago, just qualifying for the World Cup was a major achievement for US Soccer, now it's expected.
20 years ago, a draw versus regional rivals Mexico and Costa Rica was a high point, now Uncle Sam's Army dominates both those nations regularly.
20 years ago, an American playing in Europe was unheard of, now the roster is full of players who suit up overseas.
20 years ago, Americans didn't care much about soccer, now its the most popular sport in the country!
Ok, I went overboard there with the last one, but the game has gained popularity since the States hosted the event in 1994.
The truth is US soccer has made some remarkable progress in the past two decades, but this team will never reach the mountain top unless they become more consistent.
Prime example, last summer's Confederations Cup. The US gets blasted by Italy and Brazil in its opening two matches, leading to serious questions about Bob Bradley's future as head coach, then beats Egypt (African Champs) and Spain (#1 team in world). Yet in the final, they lose to Brazil...after leading by two goals at halftime! I still have nightmares over that one.
And it goes back furthur. Since '94, the US has had mixed results at the World Cup with '98 being the biggest failure when they finished dead last and '02 being the biggest success when they made the quarterfinals. Its the kind of stuff that drives American soccer fans crazy.
But like any faithful fan, I keep coming back expecting a break out performance and this summer is no different because of Landon Donovan. Donovan has always been a solid playmaker, but took his game to a new level this year. His performance, while on loan at Everton proved to the world and more importantly himself, he can play with the best. But he can't do it himself. Native Texan Clint Dempsey needs to step up. Demps has become a star at Fulham, now that needs to translate to the international level. And Jozy Altidore, well I love Jozy and think he's the future of US soccer, but he's not even old enough to drink in this country. Expecting him to go out and dominate up front is asking too much, but he's shown a knack for using his powerful frame to put one in the back of the net. Defensively, goalie Tim Howard is one of the world's best and will need to be because there are big concerns about the Star's and Stripes back line, mainly because central defender Oguchi (Gooch) Onyewu is still not in top form after a ligament tear during qualifying.
So here we are, another World Cup, another chance for Uncle Sam's Army to make its mark on the world stage. The US, for once was drawn into a manageable group, but England poses a huge hurdle to start the competition. Get a draw there and we'll be in good shape because anything less than a second round appearance this summer would be a colossal failure. Get the Maalox ready.
June 12 VS. England - 1:30 p.m. CT (Safe to say this is the biggest soccer game in US history)
June 18 VS. Slovenia - 9 a.m. CT (Slovenia scares me, but we honestly shouldn't lose this match)
June 23 VS. Algeria - 9 a.m. CT (Easiest game of the group, but I said that 4 years ago against Ghana, and look what happened)
NEXT ON THE PITCH: GREECE