21 June 2010

US-Slovenia Reaction: The Koman Coulibaly Effect

If prior to Friday's United States-Slovenia 2-2 draw someone were to mention the name Koman Coulibaly, I would have guessed it to be an exotic dish. Now his name has become synonymous with officiating blunders much like Don Denkinger or Jim Joyce. The difference is that Joyce and Denkinger faced the music, admitted the error of their ways and apologized. Instead, Coulibaly and FIFA are demonstrating their fluency in American constitutional law by pleading The Fifth: they refuse to announce what the actual foul was, let alone confess to error.

While US coach Bob Bradley is not alone in theorizing that the disallowed goal may have been a predetermined makeup call, American soccer great Eric Wynalda has a much more sinister theory of corruption. To be honest, that was my first reaction after the game as well. However, having personally settled down in the past 48 hours, the makeup call hypothesis seems much more plausible.

Either way, the call happened and dwelling on it is a huge waste of time. What is important is how the call, and the match, have completely altered the dynamic of Group C. Thanks to a shocking tie of England by Algeria, the United States still controls its own destiny. Going into the final round of group games, everyone in the group still has a chance to win it. For the US, the answer is simple: beat Algeria by as many or more goals than England defeats Slovenia, then they win the group. In addition, it is still possible (but much more complicated) to advance on a tie considering the tiebreaker scenarios.

Shortly after the game, colleague and RPBlog editor J-Doug and I discussed the repercussions of the match. We both felt that a historic comeback of that nature could have captured the attention of the nation and catapulted the public perception of the sport in this country. As a newbie, he felt the blown call would turn Americans off from the game. On the other hand, I hoped that the concept of any publicity is good publicity would hold true.

USA advances with:
  1. Win versus Algeria on Wednesday
  2. Tie and Slovenia-England tie IF England does not outscore USA by 2+ goals
  3. Tie and England loss
Source: ESPN
Well as it turns out a funny thing happened during the course of the game. Americans started caring about soccer. My phone was blowing up throughout the game with messages from people who previously could not have cared less about the sport.* During the 930 AM EDT match, many played hooky while entire offices were shutting down to watch the game's final minutes. When the disallowed goal occurred, the outrage came from beyond just the usual supporters, it came from the entire country.

*Editors Note: Including myself, having forgotten my long-standing conclusion that the American pastime isn't baseball, football or stock car racing, but rather moral outrage.

Maybe this goal controversy is a blessing in disguise. Sympathy is on the Americans side. How we got to this point no longer matters. All that matters is that--from a cultural standpoint--this World Cup is now bigger than any other in American history. Bigger than their upset of England in 1950. Bigger than the American games in 1994. Bigger than their Cinderella quarterfinals run in 2002. The eyes of America have focused in on this team. A loss will hurt the legitimacy of soccer and set the sport back a decade in America. But a victory can springboard the Yanks deep into the knockout stages.

In sum, a victory could lead to a breakout of World Cup Fever in the colonies. A victory could earn this team scads of respect, both home and abroad, that it has never received before. The stage is set, and as always "the play is the thing." It's all out there for the taking; all we have to do is win. Go USA!

(Photo Credit: ESPN SoccerNet)


Unknown said...

You guys are so corny, its pretty entertaining!


JD Mathewson said...

You're right, that was corny. Should have instead gone with 'the readiness is all.'

Puneet said...

Well done Muff...that infuriates me more than anything, the fact I still have no idea what the call was. I get that Coulibaly probably doesn't speak English and that's why he "ignored" Donovan and others tryin to talk to him but at least make a statement afterwards. This mighta turned Americans off to soccer if it led to an elimination or something but since they're very much alive, I think most fans like the us against the world mentality that it's created.