The World Cup means many things to many people, and by many, I do mean many, billions in fact. But for each culture, the World Cup means something different, as different as the languages we speak or the style of soccer that we play. Here in the United States, quite certainly the largest Country with the largest apathy per capita when it comes to soccer, we have our own meaning. Team USA is through to the knockout stage, a spectacular achievement on it’s own, but far from overwhelming from a whole country perspective. We didn’t get there by winning, we got there by not losing. It’s not the American way to achieve something based on not losing. However, all that changes in exactly three days. Take for example the fact that in order to win the World Cup, the winning team will need to win the next four games. Not tie...win. Arguably the four toughest games of their lives...coming off the back of three games that were also some of the toughest of their lives. In order for the US to lose to Germany, 0-1, the US had to leave it all on the field. Do they have anything left in the tank, to win one more game? Just one more, of the toughest game in their life, to advance, to the next toughest game of their life. It’s simply no surprise that in order to win the World Cup the teams that prevail have to have deep reserves, it’s not enough just to Believe...or is it? Which brings me to the point of my blog today...do you believe?
Many USA Fan’s have posted that they “Believe”. I don’t want to be one of the un-American jackasses who don’t believe. Not believing in our team would be, well, un-American. So I believe. But what is it exactly that I believe. I don't believe in the Easter Bunny. But I do believe in Santa Claus. I don’t believe Landon Donovan should have been left at home, but I do believe that Jurgen Klinsmann is a gift of world class to our country in the coaching department. I don’t believe that we have a recognizable style of US Soccer, except perhaps for throwing games away in the final seconds, but I do believe Tim Howard is one of the best in the business. I don’t believe our Country gives a rats ass, about soccer, but I do believe if we start to win those who go to Church on Easter, will come out of the woods and start cheering the team on, even if they don’t understand the off-sides call, or how a 0-0 draw can sometimes be the most exciting game ever played. So I believe in something...but it’s not a spiritual belief in the Cinderella story, rags to riches, particularly because it’s hard to say anything we do in US Soccer, started by scrubbing kitchen floors for our evil step mother... but I digress.
Santa Claus showed up at this World Cup...in the form of Portugal. We were given the dumb luck to find ourselves in the group stage with Germany, Ghana, and Portugal. We were favored to go out at the bottom of the group. However instead we were this close (image of a thumb and a forefinger holding a red hair between them) from winning the group, or at least qualifying first for the knockout round. Now what? Klinsmann says, “Now we get to work”. He believes in something. But I’m not sure it’s belief in going all the way...as he’s already gone on the record with regard to our chances of going all the way. Let me restate, to go all the way means we have to win the next four games. We’ve won one of the last three games...and each game we hung on by the skin of our teeth...to whatever we achieved, win, tie, loss. Yet there still is this, “I believe” button that must be pressed even though the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us. Why then must we believe? To understand let’s take a little flight of fancy...for those of us in the soccer minority in our Country.
On July 14th, 2014, the front page headlines in every US Newspaper in the United States reads, “USA Wins World Cup in Brazil”. Just writing that sends a shiver down my spine and I have goose pimples rippling across my body. I must emphasize that that headline doesn't read that way for the majority of the world’s population in their entire lifetime. There are only a few countries in the world that could ever conceivable hope for such a headline...those who have seen it before, Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy, and...those who have been close...very close...so close they could taste it...Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy, and we can now add, France, maybe England but not really, and the bridesmaid of them all, the Netherlands. If the Netherlands win this year do you think they will declare a National Holiday? However, the real question is what do we, as the USA, bring to the World Cup and should we believe we have a realistic place in the Parthenon (Pantheon) of Soccer Gods/Greatness.
The answer is simply, yes. We have the resources to be the most dominant force in world soccer that any country has ever developed (athletes, money, coaching, management) There are simply too few of us who don’t believe. And that is the attitude that must be overcome. To say we don’t have a soccer culture in this country is to discount the millions of kids who do play soccer, and the mom’s and dad’s who take them to soccer practice every weekend. It is also to discount the fact that US Women’s soccer has ascended to the Parthenon/Pantheon of Soccer Greatness...but that hasn't produced enough momentum to carry men’s soccer or the entire US mentally on soccer forward. It has helped. Indeed we have discounted for decades that we have been the country where great soccer players come to die. Through the 70’s with players like Pele, Cruyff, Best, and Beckenbauer and now the MLS with the stars like Matthaus, Beckham, and Henry leading to the the several hundred internationals who now play in our league. And MLS is growing...it’s growing strong...with patience we will get very good pro league.
When we arrive...we will be there to stay. On any given Sunday, we can stay with the best in the business. The World Cup, however, is not any given Sunday. In Europe, their league play is tied to the World Cup. Their professional seasons end at a peak just before they go through a mock World Cup in the European Championship every other four years, with the real World Cup coming up in between. Soccer in other Countries have two other great differences, the way their professional leagues compete, with relegation. And of course their development systems, where if you play soccer, it’s year round, not seasonal. I’m not saying we have to change these systems in the US, we don’t. We just have to be more willing to support our younger players going overseas...and gaining the international experience among the best. And we have to accept that MLS is simply a lesser league. Nothing wrong with that...just like the Eredivisie in the Netherlands has to accept that although they have the greatest school and soccer system in the world, they are not the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, or the Bundesliga...and never will be.
So let’s get ready for Belgium. There is no doubt the next eight World Cup games will be some of the best soccer ever. And let’s make no bones about it. I believe. But what I believe isn’t that we could prevail in Brazil...what I believe...is that US Soccer should be, in my lifetime, a team that could take a bite of the apple...and stay to play...very few countries could do so. This is not our year...this year the Netherlands can glimpse it...but Germany, Brazil, and Argentina, will be there to beat the sense back into them. It’s going to take a world power to compete with these world powers...to me, it’s up to the US to break into this tiny fraternity. I simply don’t see any other country capable. But I do see, “THE US WINS THE WORLD CUP” in my lifetime. Since I turn fifty this year that gives me about ten more tournaments to see it through. That's what I believe.