Let me take you back, Dear Reader, back to a magical land of unbridled patriotism and the dawning of the futbol mohawk. The year was 2002, and the USA faced a tough group stage in the World Cup, being drawn against a Polish team that had been in devastating form through qualifying, the arrival of the Portuguese "Golden Generation" on the world stage, and the tenacious Korean hosts with their legions of red-clad fans and unreasoning hatred of Apolo Anton Ono.
That team stormed out to a tremendous start, disposing of group favorites Portugal with quick, lethal counterattacks, before garnering a creditable draw against the Koreans. That's where the wheels fell off, as the US, only needing a draw to advance, were thumped by Poland and only managed to back into the round of 16 courtesy of a Korean win over Portugal.
Now, let's return to Korea, five years on, where the US U-17's went into the group stages expected to advance. But a big underdog managed to spring some quick, lethal counters to sink the US in game one. Hmmm, sound familiar to anybody - could it be the greasy-haired ghost of Luis Figo come back to haunt us? Then all looked lost when Tunisia destroyed the boys in game two, leaving them with no points and bottom of the group going into the third match. Once again, the US relied on the kindness of strangers - and the Tunisians obliged by knocking of Tajikistan, while the US rallied to a 2-0 victory over Belgium, to make a miraculous leap from last to second on goal differential, and weasel their way into the round of 16.
What is it about Korea? Two roads diverged in a wood (somewhere in Korea), and the US took both paths. Surprisingly, both led to Germany, only this time the US won't have to dispose of Mexico first. In Japorea 2002, the US started the tourney strong, faded, and then picked it back up, only going out to the eventual finalists by the grace of crappy officials and the "Hand of Frings".
We'll see what Thursday brings, but I'm not entirely sure the US would have advanced had the Belgians not gone down a man in the first half. They may have still won, but probably not by the two goal advantage that they needed to edge out the Tajiks. They'll also be missing the suspended Schuler, who I though was one of the better US players in the first round, despite his sometimes wasteful finishing. Ah well, strange things happen in fubol, don't they?
Particularly to the USA in Korean World Cups.