For lesser soccer countries (say, Canada or China) the World Cup
is already over. Even some legendary powers such as England, France
and Mexico have fights on their hands to make it to the finals in
The U.S. hadn't qualified for the World Cup in 40 years until a
group of mostly collegiate players did so in 1990, and the U.S. has
qualified for every finals since. Usually for the U.S. this is
white-knuckle time in the qualification process, but now the U.S.
is in an unfamiliar position: On the heels of a seven-game win
streak, we're sitting atop our qualifying group, which includes six
teams, among them Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica. When qualifying
matches resume this fall, only utter catastrophe will keep Team USA
from the finals.
The World Cup is unique in that countries compete against each
other in one sport and just about the entire world participates.
Only Olympic basketball comes close by that measure.
In soccer, the U.S. is ranked No. 22, yet no team takes the U.S.
men's soccer team lightly. (The women's team, of course, is a
long-time global power.) Before the qualifying matches resume, a
second team of U.S. players that happens to include the legendary
Landon Donovan, is rolling opponents with relative ease in the
North American Gold Cup. That trophy is mostly for bragging rights,
but a U.S. win could signal trouble for the Spains, Italys,
Germanys and Brazils next summer.
Which brings me back to the face paint, the songs and the "Don't
Tread On Me" soccer jerseys. It's funny how the least American of
sports is making us more U-S-A "American" than ever before. If you
want to see some great soccer as well as some crazy American soccer
people, tune in to the next qualifying match that really matters
vs. archrival Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 10 on ESPN.