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Monday August 31st, 2015 5:53PM

Opinion: Painful yes, but a historic day/tournament for US

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
<i>(If you'll forgive me, I present this column as a letter written to a 16-year-old Morgan Lee on the verge of the 1994 World Cup, 20 years ago:)</i><br /> <br /> I know you are excited about this thing called soccer and the World Cup, but I warn you, it's not going to be a bed of roses...<br /> <br /> There will be times when it seems as if you walk alone as a soccer fan in this nation.<br /> <br /> There will be times when you wonder if it's worth the pain and heartache, watching another agonizing loss or nail-biting win for the U.S. that barely merits mention in the papers.<br /> <br /> In fact, and you already know this, there will be times when you feel as if everyone is downright against you in a sport that is considered downright "un-American."<br /> <br /> As you will discover in 2014 it will all be worth it all and then some.<br /> <br /> Just wait until 120 minutes of alternately uplifting and gut-wrenching play in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil -- a tournament that will literally bring this nation, along with the rest of the world, to a halt.<br /> <br /> And, no, I'm not kidding.<br /> <br /> The pure passion and energy put out on Tuesday, July 1, from the United States of America -- the country too busy/different/suspecting (pick you adjective) for soccer -- so nearly lifted 11 men with the stars and stripes on their chest and willed them on with a collective belief unlike anything possibly in US sporting history.<br /> <br /> It was no "miracle on ice," but have you ever seen footage of 20,000 Americans crowded into numerous arenas and parks throughout the nation to watch a single event? Imagine restaurants throughout northeast Georgia packed with fans hanging on every shot. Well, for four games this summer it happened here.<br /> <br /> It was perhaps the first time in decades that a true United States emerged -- even if only for 90 -- or 120 -- minutes. For each match, there were no Georgia vs Florida rivalries, no Falcons vs Saints, no Bulls vs Lakers (though in 2014 neither one of those teams warrants a big mention), no Yankees vs Red Sox. It was simply US against the world.<br /> <br /> And though they were denied in the end, every second of the positive energy willed toward our boys in Brazil imparted a peace and calm perhaps never felt by soccer fans in this great nation.<br /> <br /> Make no mistake, no one is satisfied, and you will be sickened by a few moments (poor Wondolowski). But, alternately, you will be emboldened and heartened by names like Dempsey, Beasley, Gonzalez, Green, Jones and Howard. <br /> <br /> In fact, save a special place in your heart for Tim Howard, the U.S. goalkeeper.<br /> <br /> He will do something no other U.S. keeper -- heck, no keeper since the 1966 World Cup -- has managed, pulling off 16 saves in a performance to make "The 300" (some movie that you will see and wonder what all the fuss was about) seem like a walk in the park.<br /> <br /> Yes, the U.S. fell to Belgium in the round of 16 -- but don&#146;t ever think it was a performance made in vain. Far from it.<br /> <br /> Will it be a performance that turns the United States into a soccer nation? Doubtful. Even in your young years you should know better than to expect a sea-change for a sport that has only been trying for serious recognition for 40-ish years. But what this tournament did show Americans at-large is that soccer is something they can all get behind, something they can cheer for without derision, something they can, and will, <i>ENJOY</i>.<br /> <br /> And that is something big indeed -- bigger even than Tim Howard's mitts.<br /> <br /> So make no mistake, all the hard work may not pay off with a World Cup winner's medal -- not yet anyway. But it will pay off in the kind of greater emotional joy you once thought impossible for soccer in America.<br /> <br /> -- <i>Morgan Lee is sports editor for Access North Georgia.com and a longtime soccer player and fan.</i>
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