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In this case, a tie is a win

June 13, 2010
Hill By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com
(Archive)

RUSTENBURG, South Africa -- Sometimes, you just have to take salvation wherever you can find it -- even if it means reveling in a goal that was so soft it deserves its own Charmin sponsorship.

So thank you, Robert Green, because if not for you somehow allowing Clint Dempsey's 25-yard shot to bounce out of your hands, the American soccer psyche would have suffered another significant blow before international eyes.

The Americans escaped with a 1-1 draw against England in their opening World Cup match, on Saturday at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, but let's be totally honest here: The draw was a gift. And depending on how things pan out in pool play, it could wind up being a pretty big gift. England dominated and relentlessly attacked for much of the game, and if not also for Tim Howard's seven saves, Green might not be regarded today as England's version of Bill Buckner or Tony Romo.

But if it makes England fans feel any better, at least their national team slightly deviated from the script. Aren't the Three Lions supposed to wait until the quarterfinals to fail to meet expectations?

"We definitely did our job," Howard said. "Our backs were against the wall and it wasn't pretty."

Another U.S. loss would have been far uglier.

The confidence in American soccer in the States wavers at best, but I can testify that here, there is very little confidence in the U.S. team at all.

One thing I've learned as an American watching the U.S. team in another country is that the rest of the world patronizes Team USA when it comes to soccer. If you listened to any of the foreign soccer pundits this week, it was as if they were all collectively patting the American team on its collective head and saying, "Oh, how cute, the Americans actually think they can compete at the World Cup."

But Green's awful miscue changes everything. A real run seems possible for the Americans, and it might be time for a few of you back home to purchase vuvuzelas.

Regardless of how the Americans played, they have -- despite their shaky soccer reputation -- given the U.S. a reason to believe this World Cup could be different. The Americans could easily have crumbled after Steven Gerrard scored in the fourth minute of the match -- the third-fastest goal in England World Cup history -- but they deserve credit for exhibiting mental resolve and making enough solid defensive plays to hold England off.

The U.S. earned a point against the favorite in its group, and that's no small thing. Looking ahead, this is arguably the easiest World Cup pool the Americans have ever played in and it's not arrogant to assume the U.S. will have a much easier time with Slovenia than England. In fact, the Americans should win.

Besides, the three previous times Team USA has earned a point in its World Cup opener, it has advanced beyond the group stage. Coming into Saturday's match, the Americans were 0-15-2 when allowing the first goal at the World Cup, so those watching in the U.S. should feel comforted in knowing that the national team took a baby step toward defying history. Even if it needed some luck along the way.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com