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While We Were Sleeping

June 18, 2002

A fast break by the right wing, a clever flick of a pass at the near post and a blistering right-footed shot that made the net tremble. This sporting scene and an equally exciting second goal initiated by the left wing are being replayed in the minds of millions of midnight viewers--almost all of whom were rooting for the other team.

Ay! How the United States' historic victory over Mexico frustrates futbol aficionados. The true believers who'll stay up all night and then celebrate all day find it maddening to lose to a country that sleeps as its team triumphs.

Even so, this team without fans has climbed into the World Cup quarterfinals. And we're not talking about the so-called World Series, no matter how earthshaking a battle between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks might seem to those who didn't understand a word of this editorial's opening scene.

No, while Americans mull over last season's Lakers videos, their national team has, against all expectations, landed a berth among the eight best teams in the only worldwide tournament for a single sport.

True, Team USA does not play the beautiful game that defines four-time champion Brazil (but then, no other country does). And the U.S.' Major League Soccer is hardly on a par with the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, the Calcio Italiano or the Spanish league. But only twice before has the U.S. made it beyond the World Cup's first round--in 1930, in Uruguay, when the pool was made up of only 13 teams, and in 1994, playing on home turf.

This team's prowess is testament to the work of the American Youth Soccer Organization and other leagues devoted to instilling in American kids a love of this universal game. The budding culture of soccer helps explain why Team USA forward Brian McBride and attacking midfielder Landon Donovan seem so at home in the global soccer environment.

Two weeks into the World Cup, defending champion France is home licking its wounds, along with Argentina, Portugal and many other seasoned teams that international experts had predicted would go far in the tournament. Meanwhile, the American players keep going.

Now Team USA will play three-time champion Germany in a quarterfinal match. That alone is historic. But imagine what these young athletes could do if a few more nonimmigrant Laker and Dodger fans would join the Americans originally from Honduras, Argentina, El Salvador, Iran, Pakistan--and, yes, Mexico--who will be cheering loudly at 4:30 a.m. on Friday for Team USA.

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