I'm kind of sick of the whole "what it means for US soccer" meme. It means we are through to the final 16 of the World Cup. As group winners, over England. If that's not enough, I don't know what's going to do it.
This is football at its most dramatic. A minute into extra time, we were cooked. England was finishing off Slovenia 1:0, and if the results held, we were going home and Slovenia was moving on in second place. A minute later, the table turned upside down, and we were through.
I think it's more fun to consider what Landon's goal means for this World Cup. By topping England in Group C, we've given the English a ridiculously tough path to the final four. They have to play Germany in the Round of 16, their old footballing enemy. While not totally on form, Germany certainly have looked better than England in this tournament. If they can overcome their historical neurosis against Germany, they would likely face Argentina in the quarter-finals (assuming the rampant Argentines finish off Mexico in the Round of 16). England-Argentina is another fraught fixture, resurrecting the Hand of God and the Beckham red card. It's a full employment plan for England's football hacks and a full engagement plan for the nation's fragile football psyche.
Meanwhile, the USA quietly slips into a bracket with Uruguay, South Korea, and Ghana. It's perhaps the most attractive bracket possible, avoiding all of the in form teams like Brazil, Netherlands, Spain, and Argentina all the way through to the semi-finals. Actually, I would have taken this bracket in the group stage, let alone the elimination round. Not an easy path, but certainly teams we can play with.
What has been fun about this tournament for me is how you can see the emergence of an indigenous American football. The team is a combination of organized youth products (Donovan, Bradley), street ballers (Dempsey), natural athletes (Altidore, Howard) and journeymen (Bocanegra, DeMerit). Their best attributes are excellent preparation, fitness, team dynamics and work rate rather than flair and individual skill. What's different this time is that, outside our defense, we actually have a lot of skill working in the system, and a coach who is not afraid to modify his tactics and make adjustments.
What was ultimately great about Landon's goal was how it was cut from that cloth. Bob Bradley had taken his final tactical gamble 10 minutes from time, substituting a defender (Bornstein) and bringing on an attacking midfielder (Beasley) to press the issue. Algeria put together a counter- attack on the left, ending with Howard saving an easy shot by Rafik Saifi. Howard then had the quickness of mind to run out and make an inch-perfect 40 yard throw to the feet of Donovan as he sprinted up the pitch. Landon played the ball to Altidore who was streaking up the right side. Altidore charged into the box and played a nice square ball in front of the sprinting Dempsey, who, bleeding from the mouth after taking a malicious punch ten minutes earlier, smashed it right at the keeper. But the keeper couldn't handle it, and Donovan, continuing his 80 yard run, finished the rebound. USA's biggest stars were right there at the death, stepping up to make a great technical play when it counted most. It showed the fitness and desire that absolutely characterizes this team.
There's a lot of trust and self-belief in the squad and coaching staff, and that can take you pretty far in a tournament like this, particularly the knock-out stage, where fitness and an ability to score late can make a big impact. In 2006, 6 of the 16 elimination round matches went to extra time; 5 in 2002. Going to be great fun watching USA-Ghana this Saturday. I can't wait.