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Posted: Wednesday, July 2nd 2014 at 4:10pm

Opinion: Painful yes, but a historic day/tournament for US

By Morgan Lee Editor
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US men's national team fans gather to watch Tuesday's World Cup match vs Belgium in Gainesville.
(If you'll forgive me, I present this column as a letter written to a 16-year-old Morgan Lee on the verge of the 1994 World Cup, 20 years ago:)

I know you are excited about this thing called soccer and the World Cup, but I warn you, it’s not going to be a bed of roses...

There will be times when it seems as if you walk alone as a soccer fan in this nation.

There will be times when you wonder if it’s worth the pain and heartache, watching another agonizing loss or nail-biting win for the U.S. that barely merits mention in the papers.

In fact, and you already know this, there will be times when you feel as if everyone is downright against you in a sport that is considered downright “un-American.”

As you will discover in 2014 it will all be worth it all and then some.

Just wait until 120 minutes of alternately uplifting and gut-wrenching play in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil -- a tournament that will literally bring this nation, along with the rest of the world, to a halt.

And, no, I’m not kidding.

The pure passion and energy put out on Tuesday, July 1, from the United States of America -- the country too busy/different/suspecting (pick you adjective) for soccer -- so nearly lifted 11 men with the stars and stripes on their chest and willed them on with a collective belief unlike anything possibly in US sporting history.

It was no “miracle on ice,” but have you ever seen footage of 20,000 Americans crowded into numerous arenas and parks throughout the nation to watch a single event? Imagine restaurants throughout northeast Georgia packed with fans hanging on every shot. Well, for four games this summer it happened here.

It was perhaps the first time in decades that a true United States emerged -- even if only for 90 -- or 120 -- minutes. For each match, there were no Georgia vs Florida rivalries, no Falcons vs Saints, no Bulls vs Lakers (though in 2014 neither one of those teams warrants a big mention), no Yankees vs Red Sox. It was simply US against the world.

And though they were denied in the end, every second of the positive energy willed toward our boys in Brazil imparted a peace and calm perhaps never felt by soccer fans in this great nation.

Make no mistake, no one is satisfied, and you will be sickened by a few moments (poor Wondolowski). But, alternately, you will be emboldened and heartened by names like Dempsey, Beasley, Gonzalez, Green, Jones and Howard.

In fact, save a special place in your heart for Tim Howard, the U.S. goalkeeper.

He will do something no other U.S. keeper -- heck, no keeper since the 1966 World Cup -- has managed, pulling off 16 saves in a performance to make “The 300” (some movie that you will see and wonder what all the fuss was about) seem like a walk in the park.

Yes, the U.S. fell to Belgium in the round of 16 -- but don’t ever think it was a performance made in vain. Far from it.

Will it be a performance that turns the United States into a soccer nation? Doubtful. Even in your young years you should know better than to expect a sea-change for a sport that has only been trying for serious recognition for 40-ish years. But what this tournament did show Americans at-large is that soccer is something they can all get behind, something they can cheer for without derision, something they can, and will, ENJOY.

And that is something big indeed -- bigger even than Tim Howard’s mitts.

So make no mistake, all the hard work may not pay off with a World Cup winner’s medal -- not yet anyway. But it will pay off in the kind of greater emotional joy you once thought impossible for soccer in America.

-- Morgan Lee is sports editor for Access North and a longtime soccer player and fan.
Associated Categories: Sports News, Professional Sports

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