Kind of like Star Trek movies, the US have had a bizarre habit of playing well in one World Cup, then laying an egg in the next. With the debacle of 2006 still visible in the rearview, this would appear to be the Americans’ time to step up.
Wednesday is their big chance to prove themselves once again. With a win over Algeria, they can guarantee themselves a spot in the knockout rounds. But there’s more to it, too—they can help erase some of the painful memories from four years ago, when a much-hyped US team went three-and-out in Germany.
“It's important for us because we had that disappointing run in '06,” US captain Carlos Bocanegra said at Tuesday’s pregame press conference. “It’s not really extra motivation, but it’s in the back of our minds.”
The US entered the final game of the group stage in 2006 in very similar circumstances. All they needed to do was beat another African team, Ghana, and they’d advance to the Round of 16. But they fell flat in Nuremberg, giving up two goals by halftime before losing 2-1.
“You work so hard and you train so long for the World Cup,” said Bocanegra of that experience, “and it can be over so quickly if you don’t advance.”
But there’s a big difference this time around. The US may not have won a game yet in South Africa, but they’ve been solid in both matches, rallying for draws against both England and Slovenia.
In ’06, they were ambushed in the first five minutes against the Czech Republic in an eventual 3-0 rout. And though they fought valiantly in a 1-1 draw with eventual champion Italy in their second game, they shrunk at the opportunity to prove themselves against Ghana in the group-stage finale.
This time around, they’ve learned from the mistakes of the past, said Landon Donovan, now playing in his third World Cup. And the US won’t make those mistakes again.
“In the two World Cups I’ve been a part of, we hadn’t strung together three consecutive good results and good performances,” he said from US base camp on Monday, “and I think this team has the experience and the ability to do that. We’ll find out on Wednesday night.”
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