Soccer has been must-see TV lately

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 27, 2010

I wasn’t alive in 1980, so I have no personal experience of the 1980 men’s hockey team defeating the USSR in the Olympic semifinals, known in sports lore as the Miracle on Ice.

But I’ve read and seen plenty of documentaries on how the victory by an inferior United States team over what was thought to be the best team in the world galvanized the nation.

When the final seconds ticked off the clock and the U.S. had its shocking upset, Americans cheered, wept and hugged strangers.

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People stopped their cars on the side of the road, got out and celebrated the victory.

Fast-forward 30 years and another moment in American sports history had a similar effect.

But it wasn’t a baseball, basketball or football play that had Americans across the nation enthralled.

No, it was a play in a sport we allegedly care nothing about — soccer.

Yes, soccer, the sport that is too boring, too slow and has not enough scoring to interest the American audience, which already has baseball, basketball and football to occupy its time.

But on Wednesday, with the U.S. national team needing a win against Algeria to advance out of the group stage in the World Cup, the country was watching.

And when Landon Donovan scored in the first minute of stoppage time to give the Americans a 1-0 victory and send them through to the knockout stage, the roars could be heard from sea to shining sea.

People who were packed into bars and restaurants across the country exploded as Donovan’s shot found the back of the net.

People gathered on street corners in New York City watching the game on televisions in store windows broke into a spontaneous rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.

Statistics show that Wall Street trading actually decreased by 30 percent in the final 30 minutes of the game as traders were caught up in the game on the big screens in the New York Stock Exchange.

And when Donovan scored the winning goal, they too, celebrated like crazy.

You didn’t see a celebration like that when the U.S. basketball team won the Olympic gold medal because they did what they were supposed to do. The U.S. has always dominated in basketball.

But soccer is different. Soccer in the U.S. is a neophyte compared to other countries, which have lived and breathed the sport for hundreds of years.

And that’s why it was such a great moment in American sports history. Americans love the underdog, and the U.S. soccer team plays that role well.

Unfortunately, the U.S. team couldn’t keep the magic alive as they lost to Ghana 2-1 in extra time in the round of 16 on Saturday.

Who knows if Donovan’s goal will spark a renewed interest in soccer in America.

It certainly can’t hurt.

But even if soccer continues to languish far behind football, basketball and baseball on the American sports radar, at least the sport gave us one moment that will live in American sports history forever.

It’s not the Miracle on Ice. Let’s call it the Miracle on Grass.