A Great Day For Drama

If you are a sports fan, you had to love this. The United States is mere moments away from being eliminated at the World Cup, and Landon Donovan delivers an epic goal.

It was dramatic. It was exciting. It was passionate. But perhaps the best thing about Donovan’s goal to beat Algeria is that it will keep people from harping about soccer’s offside rule.

Well, except for me. Because that thing drives me nuts. Clint Dempsey had a goal disallowed in the first half when: Herculez Gomez fired a shot, the Algerian goalkeeper made the save, the ball came back to Gomez, he passed across the front of the goal to Dempsey, and Dempsey kicked it in.

Woohoo! Yay! Goal, USA! Except the thrill was taken away by an offsides call from a buzz-kill of a linesman. Which brings up a couple points, I mean aside from the fact that Dempsey actually was onside:

  1. Why in the world does soccer have a rule that does nothing but limit exciting moments? You know, things like goals. Can you imagine a similar rule in football: “I’m sorry, but receivers aren’t allowed to run past the defense and then catch the ball. Your touchdown is invalid.” If you’re fast enough and sneaky enough to get behind the defense, shouldn’t you should be rewarded?

  2. If you do insist on having an offside rule, why not rescind it when the ball is inside the box? Dempsey’s would-be goal resulted from a scramble — with a shot, a save, and a goalie and defender in the middle of the chaos. Why should the offense worry about offsides in that kind of scramble?

I have asked soccer purists about this rule over the years, and the consensus is that it’s designed to prevent cherry picking. That a team should work the ball down the field with precise passing, instead of just sending somebody ahead of the ball. OK, I can buy that. Kind of. Maybe. But why not eliminate the rule when a team is close to the goal? Once they get that far, shouldn’t they be rewarded?

If Donovan had not scored and the United States had been eliminated, all that people would be talking about is the blown call that nullified a goal. Well, that and the silly rule that nullified it. Instead, it turned into a watershed day for U.S. soccer.

Whether or not the Americans advance to the quarterfinals (geez, this is turning into an entire soccer column; sorry), it would be silly to denounce the sport as one that will never catch on in this country. Because it has caught on. The level of interest and discussion continues to grow, and you have to be a curmudgeon to deny that.

And here’s one of the key points for the future of American soccer: The sport now attracts some of the country’s best athletes. Look at a guy like Jozy Altidore. Are you telling me he couldn’t have played any number of sports? Maybe not at the national-team level, but if he had grown up playing some other sport, I’ll bet he would be pretty good.

No longer is a great athlete in this country going to be scoffed at when he turns his attention to soccer. And that’s a huge advancement for the game. That’s one reason the American women have always been ahead of the American men on the world soccer stage: For a long time they have had some of country’s best female athletes. Now the men are doing the same.

Anyway, it was a great day for American soccer. More important, it was a great day for fans who enjoy a lot of drama and passion in their sports.

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