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World Cup provides another sports outlet

Steve Puterski

Dramatic and heart pounding are just two adjectives to describe this year’s World Cup.

When it comes to the U.S., the nerves and intensity have skyrocketed as the Yanks look to pull off one of their most impressive feats ever — advancing out of the Group of Death.

Sunday’s match against Portugal, which ended in a 2-2 draw, was a range of emotions starting with dismay when Portugal scored five minutes into the game.

Nevertheless, the Americans rallied and took the lead late in the match.

But as the clock ticked down, Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world’s best players and who had been shut down for 94 minutes, dropped a beautiful cross into the box landing on Silvestre Varela’s head and tying the match.

It was brutal.

Crushing blows like Ronaldo’s cross bring about a range of emotions. First it was shock and disappointment, then a reality check followed by a postitive assertion everything will be OK.

But that’s the funny thing about sports. The tie against Portugal, where the U.S. clearly outplayed their counterparts, highlighted several oddities.

First, any and every U.S. fan was actually hoping for at least a tie before kick off. When Portugal went up 1-0 in the first five minutes, hope seemed lost as the Yanks could not crack through, even with several golden opportunities.

Then lightening struck in the form of goals by Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey. All of a sudden, it was a given the U.S. would win and clinch a berth in the knockout stage.

Then the reigning World Player of the Year do what great players do. Ronaldo kept his club in contention to advance, although it will take a total meltdown by the U.S. and Ghana to do so.

After the final whistle, it felt as if the U.S. had actually lost, when 90 minutes prior, this was the result most fans were hoping for.

This World Cup, though, has found a larger audience around the country. Four years ago, the U.S. won its group for the first time ever.

This year, however, the U.S. wasn’t even expected to win a match, let alone control its own destiny and perhaps even win the group against the Nos. 2 (Germany), 4 (Portugal) and 37 (Ghana) clubs in the world. The U.S. is ranked No. 13 according to FIFA’s rankings.

There are many scenarios for the U.S. to advance, the simplest is a win or draw against the Germans on Thursday.

Although many still view soccer as exciting as watching paint dry, this year has seen more scoring, drama and comebacks.

And the ratings are proof the game is increasing in popularity, especially with the casual fan.

Sunday’s game between the U.S. and Portugal on ESPN was a monster and drew a new record for the sport as 18.22 million tuned in with a peak of 22.96 million between 4:30-5 p.m., according to numerous reports. Combined with Univision, Spanish-language network, the game had 25.33 million viewers.

The previous record was in 1999 as 17.97 million watched the U.S. women beat China in the World Cup Final.

It didn’t hurt the game was on a weekend, compared to the first game against Ghana, which was on a Monday, and drew 11.09 million. Still an impressive number as it is the third-highest men’s game of all time.

Thursday, though, will be the culmination of all those emotions as the U.S. as the Americans attempt to prove their worth to the world.

So come on and get on the bandwagon and enjoy the ride.

Steve Puterski is the sports editor for the Lahontan Valley News and can be contacted at sputerski@lahontanvalleynews.com.