Americans should rally behind this U.S. soccer squad

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If Americans don't fall in love with soccer after this, well, maybe they never will.

Yes, the epic quarterfinal win by the U.S. women over Brazil featured nearly everything their countrymen hate about the "beautiful game."

They faced off against a team with better individual skills, plus an imagination and intuition about how to play that develops only over decades. They were handcuffed by lousy calls - with no chance of appeal - then mocked by dives and fake injuries cynically designed to steal their momentum and the little time that remained on the clock.

To top it off, after hard work and a last-gasp equalizer erased all that, their fortunes still hinged on those notoriously fickle penalty kicks.

But oh, oh, oh, that ending.

Oh so just, if not exactly swift.

But it didn't take her long to come up with something.

"That is a perfect example of what this country is about, what the history of this team has always been," veteran Abby Wambach began seconds after the U.S. won the penalty-kick contest . "We never give up."

If only this once, even the haters back in the States should be able to appreciate why the rest of the world believes there's no greater drama in sports than watching a team trying to validate its national character in a World Cup. And for a nation wearied by a fluttering economy and political paralysis, it could hardly come at a better time.

Highlights of the game were shown between innings on the large video board in Yankee Stadium, and a crowd half a world away erupted. A stream of luminaries as diverse as LeBron James and GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman rushed to Twitter to pass along congratulations.

So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, a Swede, summed it up as eloquently as anyone else.

"It's something about the American attitude, and finding a way to win," she said, slowly shaking her head. "Unbelievable."

Empowered by Title IX, the women on that team had grown up as girls determined to claim their share of the ball fields and resources that were always available to boys.

They've managed to keep their place near the top of the game, coming into this cup ranked No. 1. But the small advantages they enjoyed over a handful of rivals are gone.

More than a style, what the Brazilians and every other power shares is a common purpose and identity, a swiftness of thought that comes from generation after generation playing one game a certain way and then passing those lessons down, in this case from fathers to daughters instead of just sons.

Here, the world game is still an afterthought. It hasn't made a deep enough dent in the sporting psyche to rank alongside football, basketball and baseball, let alone be deemed enough a priority to develop an institutional memory. The U.S. women, at least, have benefited from having access to the best athletes a rich nation of almost 300 million can produce, something that's never been true for the men's team.

Even so, whatever breakthroughs U.S. soccer teams achieved over the past few decades have been almost entirely the result of a supreme effort by a dedicated corps of players who refused to be daunted by the odds.

So it was one more time Sunday, by a women's squad that was forced to play short-handed for all but a few minutes of the final hour and never gave up.


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