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Sports

July 3, 2014

World Cup US soccer makes strides, but it's time to raise bar

Go ahead, America.

It is July Fourth week, so feel free to continue gushing over magnificent goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was rightfully elevated to U.S. sports hero after his performance against Belgium in Tuesday’s World Cup knockout game.

His historic 16 saves during the 2-1, extra-time loss were so spectacular that Twitter exploded with comments suggesting all the things Howard could save, including Obamacare and the publishing industry.

Give a big patriotic hip-hip-hooray to the rest of the U.S. players, too, who embodied the American fighting spirit and never stopped believing they would win.

But it is time, once and for all, to put a moratorium on the discussion of whether soccer has arrived in the United States. That narrative has been ongoing for the past four World Cup cycles, and it is getting tiresome.

Yes, it has arrived. In a big way. And it is here to stay. It is no longer a niche sport with a cult following. It has gone mainstream, and it’s time to treat it like a Big Boy Sport, which means Coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his team will, and should, be scrutinized just like our NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball teams.

Sports fans who never paid much attention, if any, to soccer are playing hooky from work to attend watch parties. Sports-talk radio hosts have integrated the World Cup into their shows, and commentators on ESPN and Univision are asking the tough questions as the U.S. team heads home.

Are the American players any better today than they were four years ago? Did Klinsmann make good on his promise to introduce a more attacking, creative, goal-producing attack?

Both are up for debate. This U.S. World Cup team lost 2-1 in extra time of its second-round game, exactly the same result as the 2010 team. The American players had trouble possessing the ball and pushing the attack forward in three of their four matches. They hung back and were on their heels far too long against Ghana, Germany and Belgium. Only in the Portugal game did the U.S. offense look dangerous for extended periods.

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