- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Uncle Fester of the U.S. sports conglomerate gulped hard and blinked before the prospect of advancing its seemingly eternal cause.

Do you believe in quasi-miracles, to paraphrase Al Michaels?

The team held a two-goal lead on soccer royalty at halftime in the Confederations Cup championship game in Johannesburg before it all fell apart in the second half amid a puddle of tears and the U.S. being reminded anew that it remains in the infancy of its soccer development.

It has been a protracted infancy, dating to the defunct NASL and the ‘70s, when it was hip to slap a bumper sticker on an automobile that read: “Get a kick out of soccer.”

Soccer was the sport of the ‘70s before it became the sport of the ‘80s, ‘90s and the new millennium. It remains a sport still looking to grab a larger share of the American marketplace.

The game has made significant inroads at the youth level in America’s suburbs. That growth has yet to push soccer beyond its niche status in America. It has yet to result in a stand-up-and-take-notice moment on the global stage. And it has yet to become the sport that attracts the nation’s most elite athletes.

That would be football and basketball. Could you imagine Kobe Bryant playing with his feet instead of hands as a striker? Or Terrell Owens standing in goal?

The world knows the score, and it is not Brazil 3, the U.S. 2.

For all the feigned protest around the globe that the U.S. somehow misses the fundamental beauty of the game and should develop soccer in a more persuasive way, the nations that hold the sport in religious-like adulation probably would not be too happy if the red, white and blue suddenly became something more than a panting underdog looking to have its belly scratched.

It is true the U.S. team merited a pat on the back, largely because of its 2-0 upset of Spain in the semifinals. It is equally true that coach Bob Bradley can rest easy for now, his job safe until the next outcome deemed unacceptable.

That is Bob Bradley, not Milton Bradley, either the board-game company or the petulant baseball player, the confusion almost inevitable with a game that lacks a transcendent figure in a nation with a Twitter-like attention span.

Even the potentially transcendent ones sometimes get misplaced in the nation’s sports menu, if you consider Freddie Adu and David Beckham.

The U.S. team was considered dead - and the coach most of all - before its 3-0 victory over Egypt that led to the semifinal meeting with Spain. That stirring meeting came about only with the help of Brazil, which defeated Italy 3-0.

“Everything gets puts under the magnifying glass a little bit more when you’re playing the best teams,” Bradley said. “It’s easy to talk about those things, but it’s important that the players see it for themselves, and I think that’s what has been happening.”

It was the first instance of the U.S. playing in the final of a FIFA tournament. Yet it goes down as a lost opportunity, given the U.S. seemed on the precipice of something truly remarkable.

Landon Donovan, the leading player of his generation in the U.S., acknowledged the emptiness of being so close in the final game. It seemingly would have gone down easier if Brazil had embarrassed the U.S., as it did in group play.

“We are in the position where we don’t want respect,” Donovan said. “We want to win.”

That want will receive a thorough challenge in the World Cup next summer, when the U.S. looks to put on a better show than it did in 2006 against the so-called “group of death” - the Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana.

As always, the U.S. is left to seek that one indelibly etched moment, the one it nearly had with Brazil.

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