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Op-Ed

The U.S. self-destructed in World Cup.

By Paul Hendren
Canada Kicks

(Wednesday, June 24, 1998) -- They call it "Yankee Pride", an obsession to be the best, to be the mightiest of all living creatures. Sport has never been isolated from such thinking and recently the great game of soccer has crept into the American psyche.

Prior to this World Cup, those in charge of American Soccer must have muttered under their collective breath: "The Germans will be difficult, the Yugoslavs will be a test but those damn over achievers from the Asian Football Confederation will be no problem. Three points in the bag and all the political bragging rights to boot."

Sunday night’s 2-1 loss to Iran at Gerland Stadium proved to be a dreadful time to be an American soccer booster. An embarrassing scenario of broken pride played out where visions of grandeur came to a crashing end. A country self proclaimed to be on their way to capturing the 2010 World Cup lost face to a nation considered to be their nemesis for years in the arena of world politics. How dare a bunch of religious zealots put the boots to the good ol’ boys from the land of the free?

At the 40th minute mark, in front of 40,000 onlookers, Iran went ahead and it was apparent that American headmaster Steve Sampson and his merry band of foreign hired guns were destined for the dumpster where South Korea, Jamaica and Saudi Arabia had already reserved their spots. The ever-confident Sampson was outwitted by an Iranian soccer guru from California whose claim to fame is his past employment as head coach of an American junior college.

Former U.S. midfielder John Harkes watched the game from the friendly confines of his home in Sterling, Va., Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas and Marcelo Balboa watched from the friendly confines of the players bench. All players who staked claim in American soccer’s rise in popularity. All players despised by a coach full of that "Yankee Pride."

American soccer reached its pinnacle in 1994. Led by a soccer missionary who knew something about the sport, the likable Yanks graduated to the second round overcoming the talented Colombians on their way. Despite their loss to the powerful Brazilians in Round Two, American soccer was firmly implanted on the map.

Soon after the World Cup a first rate professional loop followed. The strategic plans were in place. Instead of exporting talented American players, the United States Soccer Federation decided to develop them at home keeping a watchful eye on their progress.

The powers that be thought names like Ramos, Wynalda and Jones, immersed into the American marketplace, would lead up to successful runs in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.

The American soccer public will not remember the talented pool of young American players, but instead they will recall the Iranian names Estili, Mahdavikia and Azizi. All footballers who demonstrated their determination and immense talents with an unparalleled poignancy. All players who are far displaced from that phenomena known as "Yankee Pride."

All players with a shot at the second round. Uncle Sam must have that lonely feeling as the rest of the world looks on in amazement. One small step forward for American soccer and ten giant steps back.

Paul Hendren is a staff writer with Canada Kicks and the Soccer News, Canada's national soccer newspaper.

Articles and opinions expressed by other columnists are not necessarily the opinion of SoccerTimes.