2006-06-28 / Sports

US not carrying weight on world stage

MATT KRUEGER Sports Reporter

Oh, where are you Lance Armstrong? Remember a year ago when Lance got romanced by the entire country for winning his unprecedented seventh consecutive Tour de France? That was a marvelous moment, but it seems like it happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Since then, the rest of the world has been the Empire to America's Rebel Alliance, squashing us not with TIE fighters, star destroyers and storm troopers, but pucks, bats, balls and cleats. May the force be with us, indeed.

If all the world's a stage, as William Shakespeare wrote, then maybe we Americans could do without it for a while. No, I'm not talking about our continued troubles in the Middle East, or our diplomatic problems, I mean our disappointing performances in major sporting events.

When we step into a spotlight outside our comfortable country, we take more hits than a one-armed boxer. When we step out onto that grand stage, someone is inevitably waiting with a hook to yank us off. When we stand up and tell the rest of the world "here we come," we get speared right off our high horse. It's enough to make some people think we should take our ball and go home.

Don't believe me? Take a look at America's showing in the World Cup, the World Baseball Classic and the Winter Olympics. We got booted, batted and kick-saved right out of the competition before we could chant U-S-A. And that was all in the first half of this year.

The elimination of America's soccer team from the World Cup last week was just another link in the chain of disappointments. But this one stung a little more. It was a kick below the belt to all U.S. soccer fans.

Once again, the nation took in all the hype about the World Cup and believed the United States had its best team ever taking the field in Germany. Now, I'm not a soccer expert, but scoring just one goal (that own-goal against Italy doesn't count) in three games and not making it out of the first round is not exactly a strong presence. And our best player, Landon Donovan, disappeared. We went. We saw. We got conquered.

Of course, there were several reasons the Americans didn't fare nearly as well as their fifth-seed expectations. The Czech Republic and Italy are soccer powerhouses. Having both of them in the pool didn't do the U.S. any favors. And who would have guessed Ghana would be as strong as it was? Certainly not the Americans, who played without a sense of urgency in Thursday's 2-1 loss, despite trailing for most of those 90 minutes.

In March, the World Baseball Classic proved that the game may be our national pastime, but the best players aren't necessarily Americans. The USA limped its way out of the first round after pummeling whipping boy South Africa and edging out Mexico. Then Korea and Mexico handed the U.S. two more defeats and sent the Americans home well before most people expected. It may be our game, but others are playing it better.

The U.S. men's hockey team had one of its worst showings at this year's Olympics in Turin, Italy. With high expectations, the team went 1-3-1 in its pool before it lost to Finland, 4-3, in the quarterfinals. With such a poor showing, talk began right away of a possible major overhaul in the program. They weren't just talking about finding a new head coach, they meant scrapping the program and starting anew. That can't be good for morale.

At least the Stanley Cup went to a U.S. team. Let's hope Toronto doesn't win the World Series.

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