How modern media boosts U.S. Soccer players in South Africa

Landon Donovan, at a press conference at the Irene Farm here, knows you're having fan in your own way back home. (You might recognize that handsome devil to Donovan's left, too.)

For the majority of American soccer fans, working their prayer hands literally half a world away from the athletes that are leaving them so swollen with national pride, it’s easy to forget that their heroes really are just people, too.

These guys have lives and families and friends just like everyone else. They love their old homes and communities. 

And more than one, including Landon Donovan again just the other day, have mentioned how they wished they could clone themselves. They love being part of it all, being right in the thick of this fantastic American effort, obviously. But they also have a very good picture of what things are like back in the United States. They’ve heard the word. They know it’s a big ol’ back-slapping, horn-honkin’ national party.

They’d love for a second version of themselves, in an alternate universe, to be right at the bar with their friends and loved ones, experiencing the high-fiving and hugging bliss, experiencing it just like 99 percent of the good and clean U.S. supporters.

But in the present, in the here and the now, they are getting a little taste of it. It’s all about social networking. And about the wonder of global cellular connectivity and text messaging.

Jozy Altidore said he had 134 text messages after Wednesday’s mammoth moment, the historic win over Algeria.

Donovan compared this World Cup to 2002 – when there really was no comparison. Through Twitter and Facebook and the (damn the outrageous roaming charges!) his personal cell phone, he knows a lot more about how it’s all playing back in the States, how everyone from Mike and Mike in the Morning to Stewart and Colbert at night are all abuzz over U.S. Soccer.

Back in 2002, he said the players were already back in the United States when they figured out how big a deal it had all been. Imagine that: they had captured the interest of the country, if only temporarily … but they didn’t really know at the time.

“It really would be cool to be somewhere, in some bar, experiencing it that way, too,” Donovan said, before pausing  and smiling as he added this:  “But I’m going to choose this way.”

For his part, U.S. manager Bob Bradley joked about being decidedly “Old school,” about these matters – which probably means the less press clippings they all read, the better.  He’s not terribly disappointed if they don’t know that how much hullabaloo they’ve kicked up stateside. But he also understands the balance.

“I think it’s important for the players to have a taste, a feel for what’s going on [back at home],” Bradley said. “I don’t have any doubts, in their worlds, with their ability to have access to friends, family, access to media, the whole bit, that they are on top of it. The only thing we do is try to balance that. … There is something special when a group of people get to share an experience. To share on the inside the communication, the laughs on the inside, and to know that in the end, those are experiences that no one can ever take away from them. You want that to be special. You want them to understand going in that you’re not trying to take everything away from them, what they enjoy, but you want them to see something and feel something different. So it’s a little of both.”

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