From Desperation to Exhilaration

In retrospect, it was the perfect ending to the group stage for the United States. The challenge was in getting there. Once again, it appeared that the U.S. was going to have a victory taken away from them by a questionable, make that horrid, call by the referee. Although this time, the call happened relatively early in the game, and the Americans had numerous chances to break on top against a tough Algerian team.

The offside call on Dempsey was awful. I've watched a lot of matches in this World Cup, and I think the U.S. can lay claim to having the top two worst calls go against them. Both times the ball was in the back of the net, but the goal was disallowed.

Even after that call, the United States had a plethora of chances to get the job done. In fact, right before the horrible call, Hercules Gomez had a great look at the net from just over six yards out. He rifled it right at the keeper. It was the same fate suffered by a Dempsey blast and a Bradley rocket at other points during the game.

Also, in the first half, Donovan made a nifty move, flicked it up over the keeper, and was poised to put it away when Jozy Altidore stepped in and nearly kicked it out of Pretoria – another golden opportunity wasted.

Clint Dempsey, who I may have jinxed by calling him our most “clutch” player early in the match, had a great chance in the second half. First shot: off the post. The rebound: shanked.

For a while I wondered if this was going to be how it went for the Americans at the World Cup. Goals taken away, some missed opportunities, and a long trip home after not losing a match. But, something just didn't feel right about that. I hung onto hope that the goal was coming.

Landon Donovan had spoken before about the resilience of this team. He talked about the way they don't believe they're ever out of it, and they have the fighting American spirit to keep persevering when times are tough. Today, he, and his teammates, backed up those words with their actions.

The goal was a thing of beauty. Howard cleanly handles a point blank header, then fires a missile to Donovan, although I'm yet to see a replay that actually shows the throw. It had to be 50+ yards in the air – right to Donovan's feet. Tom Brady would have been proud. The Algerian midfielder on Donovan's side, Nadir Belhadj, chased him for a while, but ran out of gas as Donovan got closer to the 18 yard box. Donovan laid a perfect ball to Altidore, who sent the ball across the crease of the goal, where Dempsey tried his best to will it through goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi and into the net. M'Bolhi played great all game, and was able to keep the ball out of the net, but he couldn't control it. It squirted back out to Donovan who coolly hammered it into the lower left corner.

If you watch the replay closely, there is another Algerian player who busts his rear trying to catch Donovan on the initial run, but he slows after Donovan drops the ball to Altidore. Donovan never stops, and as a result he's there to clean up the mess in front of the goal.

After the wild celebration, Algeria quickly wins a corner kick, but completely falls apart after a foul is called against them on the kick. The ensuing argument with the referee kills about 90 seconds, and a player is red carded. After that, they never get another whiff of the goal.

The American spirit that embodies this team buoys them into the round of 16. Up next, Ghana – a team that sent the U.S. packing in the final game of the group stage in 2006. Sounds like it's time for a little redemption.