Bradley's battlers have spirit to go far (News Feature)
By Ronald Freeman Jun 24, 2010, 14:02 GMT
Pretoria - He wasn't quite lost for words but former president Bill Clinton was definitely speechless after the United States dramatically kept their World Cup hopes alive.
Landon Donovan's winner in the dying seconds against Algeria not only prevented the US from crashing out, it put them at the top of their group in South Africa - and opened up an enticing path for them in the tournament.
The heroics had Clinton cheering and celebrating so loudly he needed to drink hot tea with lemon for an hour just to get his voice back.
He is now so enthralled by the US team's exploits that he has changed his itinerary to stay for the knockout-round match against Ghana in Rustenburg on Saturday.
'Every contest eventually becomes a head game,' the former president said at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. 'I like people who don't quit though. We are not keen on quitters in my family.'
Clinton's excitement looks like being mirrored by Americans everywhere. The team Thursday received congratulations from US troops based in Afghanistan who are following their games as best they can.
Suddenly it's soccer, not baseball, basketball and just about every other sport that's making the news back home.
As the players prepared to return to the platinum mining district of Rustenburg, scene of their opening 1-1 draw with England, they are fully aware that a few more Americans might be rediscovering their atlases.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard said: 'We were saying this, and not in a bad way, but this (late victory) is going to capture more people's attention than if we had won 3-0 and if it were easy.
'I think that emotion and passion is what American sports fans thrive on, so I think it's special.'
Clinton, the honorary chairman of the US bid to host the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022, watched the thrilling climax next to FIFA president Sepp Blatter and US Soccer president Sunil Gulati before visiting the players in the dressing room after the match.
Gulati said: 'It is so trite to say, but so true - the American spirit came through. In the 91st minute, in a game that you have to score, where you've been frustrated the whole game, when you've had an injustice done in the last game, to a lot of people saying these guys aren't good enough - and then going out and getting it done.
'They didn't stop fighting the whole game. To come from being down 2-0 in the last game, to give up a goal early against England and come back, that's the American spirit.'
After going out at the group stage in Germany in 2006, Bob Bradley's side now have a real chance over overcoming Ghana to reach the quarter-finals.
That would count for more than the place in the last four in the inaugural tournament in 1930. And with Uruguay and South Korea as possible opponents if they reach the last eight, who would want to bet against them emulating that feat?
The United States have taken part at nine World Cups but the US team and its fans have been on a slow and painstaking journey ever since the country hosted the World Cup in 1994, fighting more established US sports like baseball, basketball, American football and ice hockey.
Bradley's boys could change that with their fighting spirit. They came from behind to draw with England, were 2-0 down against Slovenia before pulling back to 2-2 and having what they thought was a winner disallowed, and then got the goal they needed right at the end against Algeria.
'We're proud,' said Bradley. 'We finished first in our group. Five points. Didn't lose a match. So we're ready.'
Asked what made the team so special, he replied: 'It's a lot of things. In this last cycle, guys have grown, taken leadership roles, as a team we've grown stronger, we've had experiences where we've been hardened.
'Landon (Donovan) said the expression 'the part you can control.' We believe that in soccer sometimes you can't always control a call or a bounce, but you can control what you're all about as a team, what you put into it, how committed you are to giving everything in the game. I think that has become the special quality of this group.'