So Is There a Soccer Game of Some Kind Today?

Yesterday on PTI, the ESPN show which is under orders to pretend that they give a damn about soccer for the next several weeks, they did a live interview with everyones' favorite Howdy Doody impersonator Panayotis "Alexi" Lalas.

(Mr. and Mrs. Lalas were pretty inconsistent with the naming thing: Panayotis and Greg. Reminds me of a guy I went to high school with, Herman Klingenberger. You want to talk about a guy who took some crap. The worst part: he had a younger brother named Bob.)

Anyway, so as Wilbon and Kornheiser were sucking down 5 Hour Energy like it was Aquafina in a desperate attempt at looking interested, Alexi announced that todays' USA vs. England match is "the most important game in American soccer history".

While I'm certain that his corporate masters at Mickey Rat, Inc. wanted to hear exactly that kind of pronouncement out of their boy - and certainly the hosts had no reason or desire to contest it - it seems to beg the question:

Is this, in fact, "The Most Important Game in American Soccer History"?

Of course the first problem you encounter here is the fact that, frankly, there's not a lot of competition for that title.

The short list of course includes the first edition of this matchup which resulted in the 1-0 US victory at Beautiful Horizon. (Hey, just because Dan lives in Southern California doesn't mean he has a corner on translating Spanish. What? Portuguese? Even better.)

But that match, while the result echoes down the ages - to coin a phrase - you'd be hard pressed to say how many people in the 48 states either knew or cared. Furthermore, in the absence of anything like cable TV (and Roone Arledge hadn't invented sports broadcasting yet anyway) most of the US was busy watching Milton "Uncle Miltie" Berle mincing about in a dress on a black and white cathode ray tube the size of a '47 Buick. Or was that Sid Caesar? No matter.

(No, the British didn't invent the "Oh look, there's a man wearing a dress. Jolly good fun, eh?" school of humor. They just hung on to it long after it began to weird out everyone else.)

Subsequent to that match, you probably have to look at the "Shot Heard Round the World" game against Trinidad & Tobago, which is famous for a) Tab Ramos netting the game winner, thereby sending the US into the World Cup and b) Jack Warners' first foray into open thievery, selling 42,000 tickets for a stadium with 28,000 seats.

Then there was the win over Columbia in the '94 World Cup which the US won courtesy of the Andres Escobar own goal which cost a bunch of really nasty Medeillin drug kingpin types a pile of money with their bookies and got Escobar killed. And winning on your home turf because some poor schlub put it into his own net isn't really much to hang your hat on.

Of course all that really earned us was third place in the group and a Round of 16 match against a Brazil side which could very well be the best World Cup team ever. Somehow, we only lost 1-0, but in truth it wasn't nearly that close.

The less said about World Cup '98 the better. Just not going there.

You also have to consider the February 2001 "Guerra Fria" qualifier against Mexico which was significant for a number of reasons, not least of which is that, as a BigSoccer poster beautifully phrased it, that was "The Woodstock of American Soccer", and if you weren't there I can't explain it to you.

But here's the thing:

Most of those games only became "big" after we won or, in the case of 1950, after the US developed enough soccer fans so that eventually someone noticed it in a book and said "Hey, look, we beat England once".

Even the signal US successes in South Korea/Japan in 2002, beating Mexico to make it into the quarters and then losing to Germany (a polite way of saying "Getting jobbed by a filthy, bought and paid for referee". No, I'm not still bitter. Why do you ask?), both of which games did in fact generate considerable domestic interest even amongst the typical ERA and RBI-besotted American summer sports fan sucking down Cheetos in his Barcalounger.

But much as I am loathe to admit it, Panayotis may have it right, with the caveat that while it almost certainly qualifies as "The Most Anticipated and Widely Publicized Soccer Match in US National Team History", it will qualify as "The Most Important Game in US History" only if we win.

If we do what most casual and barely-aware-of-the scoring-system fans expect today - ie. lose - this game won't have much impact beyond the "US Team Still Not Ready for Prime Time" headlines which will find a bit of space on the nations' Sunday morning sports radar.

On the other hand, if we win, the impact could very well be enormous, both here and around the world, and the results, in terms of effect down the years, could very well mark this as a watershed event in the progress of US Soccer.

All the smart chat about how Project 2010 was an abject failure since we don't today stand astride world football like a Colossus may very well need to be reassessed. If in the end it accomplishes a win over England today maybe we'll be able to say "Yeah, it worked" after all.

So the question of whether this is "the most important game in US history" is mostly unanswerable at the moment.

But it's possible.

We'll have a much clearer picture sometime around 4 o'clock.