As Landon Donovan cocked his right foot, all the anguish of being 2-0 down, all the frustration of his teammates’ being nowhere in sight, seemed to well up inside him. He had wanted to cross the ball, but no one in a blue shirt had kept up with his run. So from six yards out, he put his head down and let fly with a bullet into the roof of the net, positively terrifying the Slovenian goalkeeper as it blew by his face.
Click Below to Watch the Team U.S.A.’s First Goal
In that moment, Donovan showed a flash of character that had been so visibly absent from the U.S. team. But it must have been contagious. After being sucker-punched twice in the first half by a country with the population of Houston, the Americans rallied around Donovan and fought back to earn a 2-2 draw. They seemed to shed every conservative instinct Bob Bradley has so fervently hammered into them over the last four years and finally, mercifully, played some exciting angry football. Goalkeeper Tim Howard urged his defenders to tighten up, and the Americans put some muscle in their game. Donovan said afterward that the message during half time was, “If we don’t believe we can do it, then let’s not go back out.”
• Full World Cup coverage They believed. They came back out. And they played well enough to win. The U.S. even had the third goal in the Slovenian net—a possible winner that have put it in prime position to qualify—until it was taken away by an abysmal referee who called a phantom foul. “I’m a little gutted, to be honest,” Donovan told ESPN. “I don’t know how they stole that third goal from us.” It now means that a victory against Algeria next Wednesday would give the Americans a decent chance of qualifying for the Round of 16. They will need some help from Algeria this afternoon and England next week.
“This team still understands how to fight for 90 minutes,” U.S. Coach Bob Bradley told ESPN after the game.
But more than anything during those 90 minutes, the scenes on the pitch after the game truly spoke to the team’s newfound steel. They had battled back from a 2-0 hole and they were still angry. The draw wasn’t good enough for them. Clint Dempsey stalked off the field with a scowl on his face. Landon Donovan was his typically stoic self. Michael Bradley, who scored the second American goal, ran over to rail at the officials. Expectations have changed. And for the fans, seeing the players so upset should be the most encouraging moment of the day.
Joshua Robinson is a freelance writer based in Manhattan. He graduated from Columbia in 2008 and has covered everything from the London stock exchange to the World Series.