Americans earn public's respect
Scrappy, determined and not about to back down to anybody - not even big, bad England - the United States hung on for a 1-1 draw at the World Cup on Saturday that was every bit as good as a major victory.
It was the kind of effort the USA loves and it might just give the Americans the major-league status they've been fighting for for the last 20 years.
Or at least it could bring get them a lot closer.
``We fought our way back into this game, and that's what our team is all about,'' veteran defender Steve Cherundolo said. ``We fight for every inch of playing field there is.''
Fans have insisted for years that football - soccer in the U.S. - is on the verge of becoming America's game and critics have always shot back with ``When?''
Kids have been playing for more than a generation now, David Beckham has been adopted and still the game is well below the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball on the U.S. sports Richter scale.
But it is growing and gaining interest, there's no denying that.
More tickets for this World Cup were bought by Americans than fans in any other nation except South Africa, despite the considerable expense to get here. Before the game, Americans marched proudly through the streets outside the stadium, dressed in red, white and blue from their Uncle Sam-hatted heads to their toes.
At home, the World Cup is getting the kind of wall-to-wall TV coverage usually reserved for the other football's big event, the Super Bowl. People went out of their way to watch the match, some from the comfort of their homes, others at bars and restaurants.
America's team didn't disappoint.
Part of the reason soccer has been so slow to take off in the United States - aside from the fact that, for much of the last century, the national team was about as good as Albania's - is that it's nothing like American Football.
Americans are used to big, tough guys grinding their way down the field and revel in the game's big hits and its brute physicality.
The U.S. men may not have the shoulder pads and helmets, but they have the same mentality - and similar battle scars.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard will be feeling Emile Heskey's studs on his bruised ribs whenever he breathes for the next few days. The England forward slammed feet-first into Howard's chest in the first half.
Yet Howard played on, and it was his big saves more than anything that ensured the Americans would finish as England's equal.
``We're a resilient side,'' said Howard, who was named the man of the match. ``We're a tough side, and on our day, we can put a good performance in.''
Make no mistake, England is a better team. Just as Spain was last summer, when the Americans almost upset the reigning European champions at the Confederations Cup. After Steven Gerrard scored in the fourth minute to put England up 1-0, most people figured the game - or at least the result - was a done deal.
But there's something about adversity that brings out the best in this team, a trait near and dear to every American's heart.
``The funny thing is, we talk about 'Don't concede early, Don't concede early.' And man, it's been our trademark lately,'' captain Carlos Bocanegra said. ``Credit to our guys to stick to the plan and keep fighting.''