June 23, 2010. It’s a day that will live forever for fans of the United States Men’s National Team. Everyone knows where they were for the final group stage match for the USMNT in the 2010 World Cup: their first ever match against Algeria, with a spot in the Round of 16 very much in doubt.
Sitting on 2 points after draws against England and Slovenia, the USMNT needed a win. England and Slovenia were playing each other at the same time, and while a England draw or loss would help in the event of a draw, any loss would see the USMNT leave South Africa much earlier than they wanted.
So, on an abnormal Wednesday morning just a couple days into summer, we all called in sick to work or took an early lunch break. For me, I said I had a doctor’s appointment and that they had to run a bunch of tests. For those who weren’t lucky enough to be in Pretoria that day, we gathered in front of television sets and big screens in bars, restaurants, homes, parks, and plazas. We were dressed in red, white, and blue. We were hoping for the opportunity to advance out of the group that British media declared “E.A.S.Y.” when it was set at the World Cup draw. We would have to wait over 90 minutes from the start of the whistle for that hope to turn into reality.
Rewatching the game last night, for the first time in several years, brought me back to that day. I was at Molly Malone’s in Washington, DC, crammed into the second floor of the bar with the American Outlaws DC Chapter, which I helped start. My boss thought some doctor was checking my vitals and my blood pressure. I didn’t need a doctor to know my blood pressure was through the roof, just like the rest of the bar. We didn’t know what was coming at that point in time, and watching the match again last night brought me right back to the ups and downs of emotions we all felt during that match.
How many times did we yell in frustration or clap our hands in anger when we came thisclose to scoring seemingly dozens of times? Whose hearts dropped into their toes when Algeria hit the crossbar in the first few minutes of the match? Did you become as apoplectic as I did when Clint Dempsey scored in the 21st minute, only for it to be wrongly called offside?
How many sitters did we miss during that match? 5? 10? 1234123423? Somehow, those numbers seemed small as the frustration built every time a ball went from 2 yards in front of the net into the stands. The hope faded little by little. We returned our minds to that Dempsey goal that was wrongly called back, thinking back to Maurice Edu’s goal that was wrongly called back against Slovenia, and we realized that the United States were about to be sent out of the World Cup because two referees jobbed us.
We knew that Jermaine Defoe had scored in the 23rd minute against Slovenia, so the chips were really against us. Only a win would suffice. We couldn’t rely on a goal from Slovenia, and we knew we couldn’t rely on the referees. We had to score a goal, free and clear, no take backs. Only, that goal never came. We entered the 89th minute and frustration turned to anger, at Bob Bradley and the guys for not getting it done.
We enter stoppage time, and 4 minutes are announced on the clock. We get another wave of hope. “LET’S GO BOYS!” “COME ON, COME ON!” “WE NEED THIS!” We enter the 91st minute and Algeria is pressing with the ball, and a small cross gets sent into the box and a short header by Algeria is handled by goalkeeper Tim Howard.
He immediately throws it forward to a sprinting Landon Donovan down the right side of the field. The crowd starts buzzing. The bars, homes, plazas all start buzzing as they see Landon Donovan sprinting down the right flank. They see the USMNT have numbers as Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey run up alongside him. Donovan passes the ball to Altidore, who dribbles towards the endline. “SEND IT IN!” Altidore sends the low cross towards the front of the goal, Dempsey tries to nutmeg Algerian goalkeeper Raïs M’Bolhi, but it bounces off him and pops out a few yards. A second seemed like a lifetime for all of us as we held our breath. “Not again,” we thought.
And then out of the right corner of our eye, everyone sees Landon Donovan...
He DID it. Landon Donovan scores. We listen to the call from Ian Darke and you try to hold back the tears. If you watch the reaction of Andres Cantor, any tears you were holding back were set free:
Bedlam. Elation. Jubilation. Exhilaration. Ecstasy. We all react to the new shot heard ‘round the world. Some are with hundreds or thousands of our new best friends, some are at home by themselves. But, the bedlam, the elation, the ecstasy speaks all languages:
We all remember where we were. We remember who we were with. We remember the hugs, the kisses, the high fives, the beer thrown in the air. We remember how every player celebrated: Landon Donovan running with arms outstretched, sliding into the corner with his team jumping on top of him, taking the corner flag with them. Jozy Altidore jumping on top of the dogpile, followed by Jay DeMerit doing a full somersault on top of that. Tim Howard just patting the ground in front of his goal like he was replacing a divot, his emotions racing. Bob Bradley just running down the sideline, arms in the air triumphant, his staff emotional, fans in the stands jumping up and down, in disbelief of what they had just seen.
How could anyone process what that meant? At that moment, we had that euphoria and then realized we had 2 minutes or so left in stoppage time. Forget our hearts being in our throats, every single second was our hearts in our hands while we were squeezing it tighter and tighter. Finally, after what seemed like a decade, the final whistle sounds. We pause to look at that score: USA 1-0 Algeria. We look at the other match score: Slovenia 0-1 England. We were through. Not only that, we had won the group. An incredible wave of emotion. We were soaked in beer, sweat, tears, and maybe a few bruises from our celebrations.
10 years ago today...we saw our moment. Landon Donovan provided a goal that lifted a nation. We all could fly that day. It’s the greatest moment in USMNT history, and that moment is forever etched in the history books: