So near, but yet so far

For a second, everything was perfect. It seemed like Ghana, who made it through by way of two penalty kicks, were going to get a taste of their own medicine. We were about to avenge a defeat at the hands of Ghana during the last World Cup. Landon Donovan had netted a PK to tie it for the USA, and we were pressing for more. But shortly during the first period of extra time, disaster struck. And then before we knew it, it was over.

First, there was disbelief. The entire room was stunned. It was a hands-on-your-head, blank stare, “that didn’t just happen” kind of moment as everyone looked up at the TV in silence. For some, glazed eyes turned to tears. Others too proud to cry found a chair and sulked for what seemed like an eternity. Head shaking replaced verbal communication, as if the dejection itself was enough to overburden a voice box. It is by no stretch of the imagination to say heartbreak had set it.

Anger soon followed, and for myself it was a widespread anger at that. I was mad at Ghana for winning. I was mad at Africa for owning Ghana. I was mad at Ghana’s players for wasting so much time and pretending to be injured, and I was mad at the referee for not doing anything about it. It’s depressing that we can’t even hope for next year, and who knows what I’ll be doing four years down the road. Olympic soccer is two years away, but it isn’t the same.

I was irate with Jozy Altidore for playing such a miserable game. I was mad at our defense for letting 80 minutes of decent soccer go to waste because of the first 10, for the third time in four games. I was livid that no one showed any killer instinct in the final third, and I will never understand the reasoning behind the short corner kick.

Another reason I’m furious with Ghana is that they are a great example of why people hate soccer. They showed that diving, wasting time and pretending you’re hurt are all successful tactics that can be used to help you win soccer games. The one guy on Ghana was down late holding his ankle in his own box, doing his best to look like he was on his deathbed. They brought the stretcher out for him, and the second they put it down on the sideline he hopped back up and started walking. It’s a miracle! It’s… exactly why soccer players catch a bad rap.

I guess the most upsetting thing of all was understanding where the anger was really coming from. Despite the waiting and suffering endured as a U.S. soccer fan, we still aren’t there yet. Ghana was the better team on the pitch. In what was arguably the most important game of their lives thus far for the majority of our roster, how many players can you name who really played well? For all 120 minutes? Tim Howard’s wife can count them on her Y chromosomes.

If being outplayed isn’t enough, it’s insult to injury to remember Ghana did so without their best player, Michael Essien. How many teams are the USA beating without Donovan? Realizing just how much work is still left to be done is another deep gash into the sides of American supporters.

Back at the bar, I started to find the strength to make my way back to the car. I unlocked the door, and then just sat in my seat and thought. I didn’t feel like driving just yet. As the time passed, a new thought came to mind. As depressed as I was about the elimination, something else was nagging me. It wasn’t just that we lost, but how we lost it. Not that it was in extra time, but the vague familiarity of it all. Watching Team USA today felt an awful lot like watching the Sabres in the playoffs.

You wanted so badly for your team to pull through, but somewhere in the back of your head there was that doubt that wouldn’t go away. Being dumbfounded as to why your team can’t get their butts in gear until the very last second definitely felt like being a Sabres fan, as did wondering where that extra effort was. How many times have we complained of a lack of desperation? The Sabres and Team USA look similar during the first 40 minutes. Pouring it on late and hoping it’s enough? That’s definitely a Buffalo thing.

How about a Tim Howard-Ryan Miller comparison? I’m sick of the goalie being the only one who wants to win during the first 90% of the game. If you wanted to be corny you could say Ghana was a “head” better, because we couldn’t win a head ball to save our lives, but this picture may be the most telling of all. There’s five Americans in the shot, and who wants it most? The only guy who doesn’t belong in the box for a corner kick. I’m sure Miller would park himself in front of the net on the power play if they’d let him.

So yes, I’m mad that we lost, I’m mad we’re not good enough, and I’m crushed that the dream is over. I’m extremely bothered by the fact that I have to be surrounded by teams like this, and I refuse to accept my team turning in half a performance and thinking it’s good enough.

So maybe my girl friend will never understand why I buried my head in my food at Tully’s to avoid seeing replays from the game, or why I can’t sleep at 6 a.m. after the night following the loss. But through all the tears and heartbreak, the stunned silences and minutes spent with your hands over your face, somewhere in there will all become true Buffalo sports fans. You can tell me I’m in the bargaining stage of grief right now if you want, but I wouldn’t trade that for anything. There are times like these where we stare at our computer screens at a complete loss for words, wishing we could just go to sleep and wake up from this nightmare; but at the same time, we know the suffering will make winning the big one that much sweeter when it finally happens.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but that’s the great part about sports, there’s always next time. Go States.


Couldn’t fit this in, but more thoughts on something I mentioned earlier, Ghana showing that diving equals wins. Perhaps America will always be behind the eight ball in soccer for one reason–pride. Think about it, if somebody hits you in the face, as an American, whats your reaction? You find the mother f—er who hit you and get him back twice as hard. But for the rest of the world, apparently the proper reaction to getting hit–or cleated, or pushed–is to lay on the ground like you just got shot. No shame. Can it be that Americans are too proud for that?