A Piece by Mike Brienza
Where were you when Landon Donovan scored the last minute goal against Algeria? Can you recall every moment of it and the emotion you felt in that second? It is something so rare and so magical. Two of my friends and I walked underneath the tent outside of Crew Stadium to be taken aback by the crowd gathered around televisions set up strategically throughout the room. It was a momentous occasion; the United States entered the third group match of the World Cup. In its long history dating back to the first World Cup in 1930 the U.S. had never won its final game in the group. The U.S. had never come in first place in the group ever. It was statistics and records that didn’t line up with a U.S. team that was far away from keeping with data. This is a team, that one the chips are stacked against them, and nothing will go their way, their determination and resilience will triumph in the end.
The resilience and the Never-Say-Die attitude that was instilled in the small group of players by Coach Bob Bradley is something that captured what being American is all about. 23 players caught America’s eyes and the world’s during that month of the World Cup from June 11th to July 11th. It came to the one game, the game. Win and we go through, lose and we’re out. It was simple, and as the game wore on, it seemed more and more difficult. With an incorrect offside call and several missed chances, the feeling of disappointment was setting in. We stood, and not one person would dare sit. We sought to see a moment, a miraculous moment when all our hopes and prayers would not end in disappointment but would end in triumph.
The 90th minutes clicked, and the fourth official raised the sign reading four minutes of extra time. Four minutes was all that remained to do what didn’t seem possible, chants of USA! Rang throughout the building. The time continued to tick and USA! USA! USA! Grew louder by the seconds. We screamed from our lungs, it was national pride and bonding of individuals for that one moment. Tim Howard caught the ball and started it all with one of the finest goalkeeper throws in the world, to fall perfectly to the feet of Landon Donovan in full stride at half-field. Donovan carried it forward, the chants stopped and the room went dead silent. Breaths were held, fingers were clutched around shoulders and eyes stuck to the screen in front of them.
Ian Darke announced intensely in the dying moments of the game. This was truly the last chance for the U.S. The call will forever stand in the memories of those who were fortunate enough to witness a moment that is so rare in sports and so rare in life, Landon carried the ball in front of the 18 yard box and slipped the ball to Jozy Altidore, “cross, and Dempsey is denied again! And Donovan has scored! OHHH, can you believe this? Go! Go! USA! Suddenly through! OHH it’s incredible! You could not write a script like this!” Donovan races to the corner flag and slid in to the team’s traditional dog pile. Not only the 23 players, but also coaches and staff jumped on top in celebration.
However; I never saw this reaction until replaying the game. All I recall seeing was Donovan’s pass to Altidore, the people shot up in anticipation. It instantly went from heartbreak to an outpour of total ecstasy. You jumped onto people’s backs and you rejoiced in The Moment, it was what being an American was all about. The effect may not have made soccer, “America’s game” but it will live on as a defining moment in America’s history and the World Cup’s. In thirty years we will be asked about it, and we will relish in what we were doing and where we were on the day that Landon Donovan scored in the “Miracle on Grass”.
It was a moment that can only be compared to the U.S. victory over the Soviet Union in 1980. It is the moment that will be talked about, written about, made movies about and will forever stand in our memories. I know, I will tell my kids of the day, June 23rd, 2010. It was The Moment. It was The Miracle. Sure, the game after will eventually be forgotten and the play by plays will be forgotten, but that moment will live forever. I will remember the pure joy I felt of jumping and celebrating and being completely inspired by the 23 young men that gave and did more than they were capable of. Soccer and sports provides certain moments in history, those of awe and those of disappointment. And on that particular day when we held our breath and watched in wonder, our prayers and hopes were answered with a miracle and a moment that will be preserved and remembered forever.
Where were you when Landon Donovan scored? A friend’s home, your own home? Crew Stadium? A restaurant? I know for me, I was at Crew Stadium surrounded by Americans who celebrated a triumph that was truly miraculous and inspiring. We screamed America’s chants from the top of our lungs with pride. I continue to feel chills to this day thinking of that moment and the bedlam that followed. I can only be able to say to those 23 players that gave me the memory on that early Wednesday morning: Thanks, I'll never forget it.
Fun Fact: Bob Bradley, the current coach of the US Men’s National Team, attended Ohio University after Princeton, he then applied for and received the head coaching job for Ohio University’s soccer team. He began his impressive coaching career with the Bobcats at the age of 22.