The Miracle of Rustenburg

OK, admit it.

After New Zealand Referee Michael Hester blatantly, inexplicably, inexcusably missed an obvious handball that prevented the US from scoring the last, desperately needed goal against the Pharaohs, you had flashbacks to the Germany game when a less obvious - but nonetheless clear - non call kept the US out of the World Cup semifinals.

With The Boys From Brazil absolutely destroying Italy in Pretoria - the Azzuri looked almost as bad against them as we did, something you would have sworn was simply not possible - here we were again; another referee making another atrocious mistake, another unjust result, another bitter ending to what was shaping up as one of the most stunning days of international soccer in recent memory.

After scoring two and being robbed of a third, there was just no way on Earth the US Men, given up for dead as recently as, oh, 2 PM Eastern time, could score another. Couldn't happen. No bloody way.

Then Spector-to-Dempsey-to-net-to-hysteria and all is suddenly right with the world. The team that a few days ago a clearly inebriated Eric Wynalda had COMPLAINED were afraid to "get dirt in their p*ssies" were gutting out a win that ranks right up there with...well, that's the question isn't it?

So without the legions of demands for Bob Bradley's public execution, and on a Monday morning when the sun is shining, the birds are singing and your dog is grateful that you've stopped kicking him, we're left to contemplate just where yesterday's match ranks in the admittedly slim Pantheon of Great US Soccer Victories.

Of course nothing tops US 1-0 England in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in the 1950 World Cup, a victory considered so ridiculous that when the score came off the newswires in London the papers were positive it was a typo and several actually went with "England Beats US 10-0" as their sports headline.

That one's going to be tough to beat.

Of course it's difficult to put a Confederations Cup match, no matter how implausible and shocking it was, in the same category as any World Cup game. Columbia 1-2 US in 1994, Mexico 0-2 US in the 2002 round of 16, Portugal 2-3 the same year were victories that made the world sit up and take notice that - just maybe - the US Men weren't just a nice bunch of suburban white kids taking a break from college to get politely stomped by "real" soccer countries.

But to me that's the point here: this morning the US win/Italy loss is the front page all over the world of soccer. After a series of recent tournament embarrassments (including the last Confederations Cup debacle) the world soccer press and public had returned to the safe, comfortable "Big Fish in Jack Warner's Tiny Pond" vision of where the US stands; a shoe-in for World Cup qualification but a team, consisting largely of guys named Biff and Skippy, without heart or guts or a soul.

A team you prayed would end up in your draw.

Well maybe that hasn't really changed all that much. Surely Spain isn't losing sleep over the prospect of facing off against Jonathan Bornstein and Jay DeMerit.

If I were them I'd feel the same way.

But maybe, just maybe, the US found itself yesterday. Maybe they can begin to hit the field with some confidence instead of just a load of hope. Maybe that was the day when we finally stopped trying to recapture the the McBride/Keller/Reyna/Pope et. al. past, and started building something new and, dare we say it, better.

If so, then we may look back on this game as deserving one of those little nooks in Oneonta all it's own.

* Edit: to all and sundry who wish to point out that the non-call PK would have been goal #2 not goal #3, you're correct, something I know because I watched the game.

I mean that after we had two that was the missing "third" goal, not in a chronological sense but rather in the cumulative. I should have written it better or more clearly or something.