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June 24, 2010

Huge TV ratings for U.S. games

Associated Press

IRENE, South Africa -- Tim Howard got back to the team hotel after the big win over Algeria, turned on a television and saw David Wright. Then he noticed what the New York Mets third baseman was wearing.

"I guess he went out and bought a Landon Donovan jersey a couple of weeks back, and he wore it yesterday," the American goalkeeper said Thursday. "That's pretty cool, when you see guys like that in other sports, high-level athletes who you respect, getting involved and enjoying our team and our success."

The Americans' opening 1-1 tie with England was seen by 13 million people on ABC, the largest audience to watch the U.S. soccer team since the 1994 World Cup at home. The controversial 2-2 draw with Slovenia was seen by 5.2 million viewers and 3.9 million homes -- the most households for soccer in ESPN's history.

Ratings for Wednesday's 1-0 victory over Algeria, when the U.S. advanced to the knockout phase on Landon Donovan's injury-time goal, were to be available later Thursday. Another huge audience is expected for Saturday's second-round game against Ghana, which starts at 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC. Former President Bill Clinton, who congratulated players in the locker room after the Algeria win, rearranged his schedule to stick around for the Ghana game.

Jozy Altidore, whose cross led to Clint Dempsey's shot and the rebound that Donovan converted, could appreciate the excitement when he saw how many voice mails he received after the game.

"I looked at my phone and I had 134," he said. "Pretty amazing. That means people are taking notice of what we're doing."

When the U.S. team bus pulled up to Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria before the game, the players saw a red-white-and-blue clad crowd waving the Stars and Stripes. Some fans were dressed as Uncle Sam, others as the Statue of Liberty. At the match against England, some American supporters wore Elvis outfits.

"It was pretty sweet driving through and people slapping the bus and the flags waving," captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "It gets us a little bit more pumped up. And it was pretty emotional."

One fan stood out for Altidore.

"There was one kid who ran with the bus for maybe a mile," he said. "His face was painted and everything."

Wright's support was particularly meaningful to Howard.

"Landon scored," he said. "Their first pitch I think wasn't long after that. His Landon jersey was in the clubhouse, and I'm sure it made him feel good. It was almost like he predicted it by wearing the shirt, and I'm sure a lot of his boys in the clubhouse didn't know exactly what it was."

With another win, the U.S. would reach the quarterfinals, something it managed in 2002. With two victories, the Americans would advance to the semifinals for the first time since the original World Cup in 1930, when only 13 nations played.

"Two more wins would be great for us," Altidore said. "But why not four more? Anything's possible. I mean, we're in it to win it."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press