Over the course of your life, you’ll see hundreds, maybe thousands of goals. But some goals are more than just goals. Mas que un gol, if you will. Sometimes, you need to do no more than mention the player’s name, and everyone knows the goal you’re talking about. These are the goals that stick out in your memory forever. This is one of those goals.
“Howard, gratefully claims it.”
The sequence starts with a free header for Algeria. No, it starts with the goal ruled offside earlier in the game. No, it starts five days earlier, when Maurice Edu’s potential winner was disallowed against Slovenia. Without that, none of this happens. If the U.S. had defeated Slovenia, a draw in their last game would have seen them through to the second round. Little did we know at the time that the ref was doing U.S. soccer a favor.
The 91st minute against of a scoreless game against Algeria. The north African side played negatively; they had gotten a goalless draw against England, and seemed perfectly content with doing the same against US, though they could still advance with a win. If it stayed like this, it would be three draws and the most frustrating of eliminations. Tim Howard’s throw was the first step towards changing history.
“Landon Donovan, there are things on here for the USA.”
If there was an American soccer player that the average American could recognize prior to the 2010 World Cup, it was Landon Donovan. As a 20-year-old, Donovan put the dos in dos a cero with his goal against Mexico in the early morning obscurity of the 2002 World Cup. When the spotlight shined on David Beckham’s move to MLS, Donovan received some of the reflected attention. And here he was, storming down the right wing once more, with seemingly no one in his way.
“Can they do it here?”
That is seemingly always the question. The USMNT has had any number of opportunities, in this and other World Cups. Answering that call has all too often been a task too much. The sense was still desperation more than hope as Donovan gave the ball off to Jozy Altidore. Altidore was 20, and there were times during the tournament when it seemed he could do nothing right.
“Cross—and Dempsey is denied again!”
It could just as easily have been Clint Dempsey’s moment. Dempsey, who had had more success in Europe than any other U.S. outfield player, could have been the hero. But Algerian goalkeeper Raïs M’Bolhi denied Dempsey, as he had seemingly every other player on the U.S. The ball bounced free, and…
“And Donovan has scored!”
Build-up, tension, and, at long last, release. This was the beautiful game at its most beautiful. It wasn’t a work of artistry, just a tap-in that most could have scored provided they were in the right spot. But in context, it was the answer to prayers.
“Oh can you believe this? Goal goal, USA!”
In some parts of the U.S., Donovan’s goal came at 8:45 a.m. on a Tuesday. But people watched. For those who are already fans of the sport, it was vindication; for newcomers, it was revelation. This is what soccer could provide, excitement on a global stage unlike anything else. This goal changed soccer in America in ways big and small.
The most blatant and obvious: the U.S. would play another game. Almost 10 million Americans watched their round of 16 match against Ghana on ABC, the largest audience ever for a USMNT game. It would be a frustrating loss in extra time, but that sort of exposure can’t be bought.
“Oh it’s incredible! You could not write a script like this!”
And that is the point, isn’t it, Ian Darke? Isn’t that, after all, what keeps us watching? Here, Ian Darke, who would become the voice of soccer on ESPN as a result of this game, goes quiet. The images speak loudly enough: a dogpile of U.S. players by the corner flag, American fans going wild in the crowd. Similar scenes played out at bars and viewing parties back home. Jubilation.