One goal to change it all

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The above may sound like the tag-line from a overproduced and formulaic Hollywood sports movie - they do them fairly often - but it may end up describing, in an admittedly trite way, the longer effects of Landon Donovan's added time winner against Algeria on Wednesday. 

There's reason to believe that the football culture in America lurched forward in a full-body spasm of World Cup joy thanks to Donovan's johnny-on-the-spot routine in Pretoria, with the World Cup and the Yanks now the hottest topics going.

The American media loves to play the "When will soccer's popularity explode?" card, one they keep up their sleeve to be predictably laid down every four years when the dog days of summer have dried up any other sports stories (the baseball season is LONG; what happens in June barely matters). 

It's tired, to be frank, in part because the growth of the game is just too organic to be pinned down; people gravitate to football of their own volition, not because they’re targeted by marketing campaigns (*cough* Becks *cough*) or because the US National Team managed to find a measure of success in that little tournament they call the World Cup. 

Those things may help, may push the roots a little deeper or plant the seed of interest in a few more minds, but there isn't going to be an identifiable moment when the American populace just "wakes up" to the world's game.

The subject is a tricky one for those of us that have already given ourselves over to football; it could even be called a matter of unwanted responsibility.  It would be easier to just put aside this whole nonsense about the sport making it in America and stick to the business of supporting our teams, haranguing our managers, and going mental over matches. 

Alas, we're also part evangelist, spreading the gospel of footy via whatever means available because we feel it to be our duty.  Not all of us are inclined to the work, and the resistance can sometimes be too much to bear.  Football has some odd stigmas attached to it in the States, and old habits die hard among the unconverted.

But what this team, and specifically Donovan's winner against Algeria, has done is removed our burden temporarily.  The game always needed to speak for itself, and we could never be anything more than poor interpreters. 

The goal also did something likely more important, proving to everyone here that football's popularity isn't as underground as many thought.  This goes for the media, the country's general sports-obsessed contingency, and even the early adopters themselves.  

In a way, this World Cup has made us self-aware, shown clearly that there are millions out there ready to shunt the old thinking aside and open themselves up to supporting a new game that isn't actually new.  Ratings have been massive, the coverage thick; part of that is down to ESPN's commitment to the World Cup and some is the natural progression of football's rise in the public consciousness. 

Maybe some of those people who jumped on the bandwagon during the Confederations Cup last year never really jumped off.  After years of second-class status, it's all a mild surprise.

Make no mistake: Donovan's goal, magnified by the last-gasp nature of it all and the rough officiating the Americans have been subject to in the tournament, was a transcendent moment. 

Oddly, it may be the first such American moment to occur on a football pitch with men, rather than women, playing the game, and it has certainly set off a wave of interest like we've never seen before. 

Frustratingly, 2002, the high water mark for American success at a World Cup post-1930, couldn't penetrate the hardened layers of resistance.  2006 was a disaster that never really got off the ground.  2010 is something different, a coming together of a quality team that fights with every ounce of ability it has, a television network throwing its massive weight behind the World Cup, and a fan base that has grown steadily over the course of the last generation reaching its maturity. 

To call it a perfect storm would deny its true impact; not only is it stronger than that, there's reason to think it should make a deeper mark on the sporting culture than a few downed trees and broken windows. We cross our fingers in the hope that it has fundamentally altered the weather patterns themselves.

Even if it doesn't, even if what we're experiencing is simply a brilliant burst of excitement destined to burn out like a FIFA-authorized World Cup edition supernova, football's place here is secure. The market is proven. Networks are committed. 

Millions of people play the game every week. MLS is doing just fine, thank you, chipping away at the bedrock of a culturally diverse fan base for decent attendance and a hard won spot alongside the world's second tier leagues. 

If this is all to end, with the game receding into the relative background for another four years, football will nevertheless continue to worm its way into the country's heart just as it was before. There's an undeniable air of inevitability. 

One goal to change it all? For the U.S. fortunes in South Africa, certainly. For the fortunes of football in America, only time will tell.

Let Hollywood know I'd be happy to write the script.

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