By Steve Silverman
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The mania hit this country and spread like a rampant fever during the United States’ run to the knockout stage of the World Cup.
It all came to an end Tuesday despite the heroic efforts of goalie Tim Howard. The North Brunswick, N.J., native set a tournament record for saves in one game and almost willed the U.S. to the quarterfinals in Brazil.
However, that was not to be as the U.S. often looked dazed and confused against Belgium in the 2-1 defeat. The Americans were unable to maintain possession of the ball and when they were able to take it away from their opponents, they rarely mounted any kind of sustainable offense.
The Belgians had no such issues and it was just a matter of time before they scored. Their two goals came in the equivalent of what we in North America regularly refer to as overtime. In soccer, overtime is not of the sudden death variety. Instead, its 30 minutes of extra time, and that’s when Howard was finally solved.
When Belgium scored twice, the match appeared to be over, but the U.S. managed a goal of its own on an artful play by teenager Julian Green. That goal lifted the Americans and they dominated the final 10 minutes, but they couldn’t get the goal that would have sent the game to a shootout.
That, my friends, is that as far as soccer is concerned in the United States.
Despite the huge crowds that watched the World Cup games at public venues in major cities all over the land, we have not become a soccer-mad country.
Soccer fans will not suddenly fill MLS stadiums and the sport is not about to join our four majors as one that commands headlines on a regular basis.
The World Cup mania was about two things: The first is that the world has become smaller and maybe a little less xenophobic, despite the efforts of a troglodyte like Ann Coulter. The World Cup is the best soccer played in the world.
The American soccer program has been getting better and better every year, and we are far closer to joining Germany, France, England, Brazil, Spain, Italy and Argentina than we have ever been. That breeds interest, and the fact that World Cup soccer is the best in the world draws fans who are curious.
We have a love and interest in excellence, and our boys competed. That brought a lot of new eyes to the sport.
But the other reason the World Cup seemed so popular is that people want to be drawn together. There is an innate need to belong to a community. In this country, there are so many things that pull us apart.
Neighbors build fences to separate from one another. We confront crime on an every-day basis. Politicians seem to make our lives worse instead of better. Democrats fight with Republicans and liberals clash with conservatives. The haves keep a wary eye out for the have-nots, and those that are striving to climb the ladder have to be concerned about getting stomped on as they rise.
The World Cup presented one of those moments when we could all come together and be proud of our American heritage and shout our patriotic love for the good, old USA from the rooftops.
The pierced, tattooed and bearded stood together with the well-shorn and the straight-laced. It was a remarkable coming together that is rarely seen.
Perhaps the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team did this in even more remarkable fashion. Soccer in the United States has been growing for decades, but that 1980 team was a team of college kids outplaying the greatest team in the world. America took notice of her Davids beating the Soviet Goliaths, and that triumph will live on throughout the generations.
We fell in love with that team, and this time around, Americans fell in love with the idea of coming together for a common cause.
It was beautiful while it lasted, and perhaps it will happen again in four years at the next World Cup in Russia.
However, Americans are now about to get back to baseball, and in just a few weeks, our real passion:
Football. The real version of the sport.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy
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