Yes!!! With the historic 3-2 win over Portugal, the U.S. Men made a gigantic leap for American soccer.
Now for us fans getting ready for the game against Portugal, it wasn't your everyday party-planning scenario. There were many things to be considered: The menu, the people, the attitude, and, most importantly, the outfits. My friends will understand the last part the best, because as they know, every event has a special outfit. And for this game, admission to the "viewing party" came with a stipulation. I riffled through my closets and gathered all my U.S. Soccer gear that I have collected from the '96 Atlanta games until the present, and everyone who entered had to wear something. I even had my teammates on the CyberRays wearing a full USA strip!!!! I prepared two cakes for the celebration, because cake is eaten best at 2 a.m. when soccer is being played. One cake was decorated with a "USA" and the other had an American flag, designed with blueberries and strawberries. So, we all justified the early morning dessert fest by saying that we were actually having eggs and fruit for breakfast. I also invited a reporter from the San Jose Mercury News over to see first-hand what a soccer celebration looks like.
A few minutes into the game, and with the USA up 1-0, the reporter asked me how this could be happening. My first and only response: "You can't coach emotion on the training field." At the World Cup level, talent is something everyone has with a few exceptions, but attitude and emotion are the "X" factors. And on the pitch that day, the U.S. had that factor working in their favor.
With that said, our next match against Korea (June 10) could be an explosion of emotion. Korea won their first-ever World Cup match (against Poland) - in a convincing style I might add – and now the U.S. will have to deal with not only an emotional team, but an overly-amped up crowd. I have heard reports from different news sources that the Korean fans chanted and sang from the first whistle until the last. Our men will have to quell their enthusiasm with an early strike, a la the Portugal match, if they wish to extinguish the "X" factor that Korea will have in their favor.
The next big question that we are all asking coach Arena is: "Will you be staying with the same line up, even if all the players are healthy?" If it were my call I would stay with the same line-up, and this is why. First - those players are coming off an incredible high, having just beaten one of the world's best teams. Second - the speed of Korea will be matched by the speed of Beasley, Donovan, and Stewart (if his groin heals sufficiently). And third - the guys on the bench will be chomping at the bit to get in and make things happen, so when they do get the call, that we can use their emotion in our favor. The key to the last one is not to be overexcited and let the excitement exhaust them. I have high hopes for our men, as always.
Moving on to other interesting and ridiculous news and occurrences in the World Cup ... First, France is in big trouble. Who would have thought? Pulling a “John Daly” and not making the cut is looking more and more like a reality. And let's be honest here, there will be a lot of people knocked straight out of their office pool if France fails to advance. Watching them at 4:30 a.m., I was slack-jawed by their lack of confidence on and off the ball. Usually making deft touches and darting runs into and around the box is their specialty - and not having Zidane changes things a bit - but they are premier players, and their lack of confidence showed.
Hey Germany, how could you let Ireland sneak one past you? Flying headers and flips couldn't keep the luck of the Irish out of Oliver Kahn's goal. You have to cheer the spirit of the green and white, and especially that of Robbie Keane, who has been a lone solider in the front line. Now with that tie, Germany could find themselves out of the second round with a loss to Cameroon and an Irish win over Saudi Arabia. To score eight goals in the first game and then have doom looming heavily over your head is a drama that could make it on "Ripley's Believe It or Not."
And now to the ridiculous. What is up with the hair of Germany's Christian Ziege? Only David Beckham, Freddie Ljundberg and those Japanese players can get away with tricky haircuts and colors. Ziege's attempt of a German colored mohawk epitomizes the phrase "bad hair day" or in Zeige's case, "bad hair month."
But with that said, something even more ridiculous has come out of FIFA – a $7,000 fine for Rivaldo. That's dinner and drinks for a group of friends as far as he is concerned. How many players in the World Cup are going to think twice before faking, or "simulating" an injury or foul because of the fine against Rivaldo? The answer? None. If FIFA and President Blatter want players to take him seriously, a suspension would be appropriate. Now, do I want Rivaldo, a true superstar, out of the Cup? No, but the integrity of the game is being smeared once again by the lack of respect for the bylaws. The game needs the subtlety and deception, but a Turkish player was shown the door (although kicking the ball at Rivaldo was a stupid thing to do) because of Rivaldo's antics. Hopefully, I'll have some more news bites from the ridiculous file to share as this tournament continues.