No Pressure Fellas, It's Only An Entire Nation Watching

So…got any plans for tomorrow afternoon, say around 2:30 p.m.? Word is, there's a pretty big soccer match on ABC. ↵

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↵Okay, okay, enough cutesy junk, this is serious. We've been debating all week if the win over Algeria is the biggest win ever or the greatest goal ever or the most important moment ever and every darn superlative you can throw at that match. You want to know the great thing about a tournament like the World Cup? It's the next match that's the most important ever. And tomorrow, it might actually be the case. ↵

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↵From a World Cup standpoint, the United States was expected to get out of the group. There wasn't much doubt the U.S. was one of the top two teams in Group C when the pairings were announced, but the circumstances of how they got out of the group makes them somewhat of a Cinderella story. But make no mistake about it – and don't listen to Alexi Lalas when he preaches otherwise – the U.S. should go into Saturday's match with Ghana as the favorites. That, of course, doesn't mean much, as many favorites have fallen in the World Cup so far this year. Besides, just because the Americans should be seen as the favorites doesn't mean that Ghana is a pushover. ↵

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↵The last remaining African nation is a very talented and tough side, and will have the entire continent rooting for them to move on. The USMNT has played in hostile environments – this crowd could as partisan as El Azteca, just without the vomit – but they haven't won in too many of them, favorites or not. ↵

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↵There's more to it with this American team, though. If you go back and read our preview, or almost any preview, nearly everyone picked the United States to get to the knockout stage and lose. Of course, most people expected them to place second in the group and face off against Germany, so perhaps some of those opinions will change this weekend. Me? I picked them to win the group and I picked them to get to the semifinals. And darn it if the bracket isn't set up for them to do just that. ↵

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↵Allow, for one brief second, a look past Ghana and the winner of Uruguay and Korea awaits. We've been so hung up on the importance of Landon Donovan's goal, but how about the importance of Wayne Rooney ringing one off the post in England's win over Slovenia? If Rooney puts his shot in the net – something he has yet to do this World Cup – it's England who advance as group winners and the United States who gets a meeting with Germany and a potential quarterfinal tilt with the winner of Mexico and Argentina. That is how important capitalizing on opportunities can be in the World Cup. ↵

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↵On our show Thursday we discussed if American sports fans – not soccer "snobs" as Shanoff calls us, but general fans like, well, him – would be as excited about Saturday afternoon's match if the United States had won their second match and only needed a tie to advance against Algeria. What if Clint Dempsey's goal had stood in the first half of the third match, or his shot off the post in the second half went in? What if Jozy Altidore didn't put a sitter 15 yards over the net from five yards out? What if the USMNT did what they should have done and beat Algeria 3-1 in that match? We never would have gotten Landon Donovan's goal and we never would have had the moment that still gives people chills to think about. Those chills won't go away, no matter what happens on Saturday. That was a magical moment for American soccer. But it will not mean as much if they don't win tomorrow. ↵

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↵The inability to capitalize on chances and the inexplicable decisions by two officiating crews nearly conspired to knock the United States out of the World Cup. As Donovan said after the match, you can complain about it, or you can go do something about it. It took 91 minutes, but they did something about it. Now they need to do it again. ↵

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↵If the United States expects to beat Ghana, they'll need to stay three feet onsides so there's no debating the calls. They need to stop hitting posts and start hitting twine. They need to not allow Asamoah Gyan and the other attacking players for Ghana the chances they've given up in the first ten minutes of every match so far. They'll need to play an entirely solid, nearly flawless, match. And they'll need to do it with more people watching them than ever before. ↵

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↵ESPN has been boasting that the overall ratings are 50% higher than in 2006 and that the U.S. match against England shattered all sorts of records for ABC, with the Algeria match breaking every record in the history of ESPN for soccer. People have indeed been watching, but those ratings will be nothing compared to this Saturday. ↵

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↵Sure, the U.S. win over Mexico in 2002 is still the most important win – with the subsequent match against Germany the most important match – in the team's World Cup history. But there's a chance that twice as many people could be watching the match tomorrow. Seriously, no pressure: ↵

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↵⇥Wednesday morning’s United States vs. Algeria FIFA World Cup match on ESPN is the highest-rated and most-watched soccer game in the history of ESPN networks, delivering a 4.6 rating (4.0 household U.S. rating), 4,582,000 households and 6,161,000 viewers for the two-hour contest (10 a.m. ET - noon). ↵⇥

↵⇥The previous households record was set five days earlier with the U.S.-Slovenia match (June 18) – 3,906,000. Excluding holidays, ESPN's coverage of the U.S.-Algeria game ranks as the most-watched weekday morning telecast ever for ESPN, surpassing the U.S.-Germany World Cup match from eight years ago (June 21, 2002) – 4.4 rating and 5,335,000 viewers. ↵⇥

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↵Take that, live SportsCenter. ↵

↵It's important to remember that the 2002 win over Mexico in the second round was in the middle of the night on a Sunday heading into Monday, while the loss to Germany came at 7 a.m. ET on a Friday. This is 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. ↵

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↵Landon Donovan's goal was "the moment" for U.S. soccer, but if they want to capitalize on that moment, tomorrow is a must win. Everyone, after all, will be watching now. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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