Richard Stroud

Grove Sun

†ďThis may just be what it takes for the game to make a go in the States.Ē Member of U.S. World Cup soccer team

That quote wasnít spoken about the U.Sís last-second win over Algeria that advanced the team into the knockout stage of this yearís World Cup.

Itís not a quote from the 2002 World Cup either, when the U.S. beat Portugal and Mexico on the way to the quarterfinals.

Nor is it from 1994, when the U.S., in only its second Cup in 44 years, defeated Colombia and advanced to the round of 16.

That quote was from 1950, when the U.S. defeated England 1-0 in one of the sportís biggest upsets.

Soccer was not ready to break into the American mainstream in 1950. There was little national team structure to speak of, let alone a domestic professional league. The win over England faded away, and the U.S. didnít even qualify for another World Cup until 1990.

But through the decades soccer at the youth and high school levels grew, as some children and their parents sought an alternative to the football-basketball-baseball tradition.

Of course, those playing this fringe sport from foreign lands were looked down on by others. To some, they were granola eating hippies from California playing some strange game where you couldnít use your feet. Most who played it as children gave it up before adulthood. It was fine when you were six, but real men play football.

The 1994 World Cup, which the United States hosted, sparked a renewal of interest in the game, leading to what has been the biggest development for our international soccer hopes, Major League Soccer.

Those of us who have spent our lives following other sports (all of us) donít quite understand what a big deal this is. But before MLS came along, many U.S. players had few options when it came to playing professionally. Few American players were good enough for the top-flight European leagues, and scratching out a living in minor leagues in foreign countries was not an option for most players.

But with MLS, American players had a place to play after college and make a decent living doing so.

In turn, the national team has gotten better, qualifying for every World Cup since 1990.

The last 15 years have seen the sport grow steadily. MLS has increased in teams, attendance and television ratings. Interest in the national team has grown to the point where ESPN, for better or for worse, has decided to get involved to the hilt.

However, the missing ingredient continues to be success at the World Cup. Triumphs such as 1994 and 2002 are followed by winless debacles like 1998 and 2006.

This yearís team seemed prime to be soccerís version of the Miracle on Ice. After a last-minute goal to beat Algeria captured the nationís attention, and with traditional powers such as France, Germany and Italy either out of the tournament or on the opposite side of the bracket, the U.S. looked poised for a run to the semifinals.

But the defensive lapses that had plagued the team for months finally caught up. A goal by Ghana in the first half was the third time the U.S. had allowed a goal in the first 15 minutes of a game. After Landon Donovan, who had a star-making tournament that included the goal against Algeria, tied the score with a penalty kick in the second half, the U.S. again allowed a weak goal early in overtime.

So soccer will lose its chance for two quiet summer weeks with the nationís attention all to itself. Certainly the sport will continue to grow in the same steady way it has, but the chance for a breakout moment has been lost.