IRENE, South Africa – From front-page spreads in The New York Times to 10 o’clock local news fodder – the goal that wasn’t against Slovenia has made the US soccer team into water-cooler talk like never before.
Everyone back home seems to be talking about Maurice Edu’s apparent go-ahead goal last Friday, and Tim Howard says word is starting to get back to the US squad here in South Africa.
“Those types of things are starting to leak into our training camp,” the American keeper told reporters on Sunday. “People are up in arms and they can’t believe it, and that’s pretty cool.”
Ironically, it didn’t take an unprecedented feat – a semifinal berth, perhaps – nor some shocking highlight-reel moment to make mainstream America pay attention to this World Cup. It was a waved-off goal that has left many casual sports fans outraged, feeling like the US were robbed by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly.
Howard says he’s amused to a degree that the controversial call is the one on which Americans are fixated, pointing out that it was just one storyline to the US’ incredible rally from a 2-0 halftime deficit against the Slovenes. And the New Jersey native says it doesn’t matter – the team loves the new attention.
“For people ... to be so up in arms about it, it shows, No. 1, they care, and, No. 2, they are getting into the game and starting to understand how it all works,” Howard said.
The much-hyped 1-1 draw with England in the Americans’ opener drew near record viewership numbers stateside, and Friday’s game also took in a huge amount of viewers. According to ESPN, television audiences for this World Cup are up 60 percent over the 2006 tournament in Germany.
So with that many people back home paying attention, do the US feel extra pressure to outdo themselves? With some of the off-the-wall results in the group stage so far, Howard thinks the Americans have a good chance to do something special – like their quarterfinal run in 2002.
“It’s been a crazy World Cup,” he added. “That probably puts a team like ours in a good position to go further than we previously have.
“I’m talking out of turn here because there’s a long way to go – we still have to get out of our group. [But] if we use the 2002 World Cup as our benchmark all the time, then certainly we’ve shown we’re capable of playing to that level and to that standard.”