Like many Americans I found myself at work during the USMNT’s match against Germany today. I was unable to watch the game and was informed via text that USA had lost. But we still advanced.
I know that should have provided some measure of satisfaction but I just did not feel it. Yes, I was proud to hear that for the first time ever the USMNT had advanced to the knockout stage in consecutive World Cups but I still wished it had been on their own merit and not because Portugal was blown out by Germany in the opening match.
I am not saying this is not an accomplishment the team should be proud of or that we should all hang our heads in shame. I am simply saying that I hoped the USMNT would not have needed a tie-breaker to get through. It irritates me that thirty seconds from a victory over Portugal turns into a tie and a tie-breaker to move on from group.
I wanted so much for the USMNT to prove everyone wrong about us. I wanted it shown that despite the fact we call it “soccer” and play the game a little differently, that we belonged on the world’s biggest stage and that we could win there.
That is the life of the fan though is it not? The players are singularly focused on the task at hand. They have a coach to motivate and encourage and help keep them focused on their goals. The USMNT set out to win games, true, but the goal was to advance from group. They did that. Now they will turn their attention to the next task, defeat Belgium and advance again.
Fans, such as myself, can often times get caught up in larger pictures, the impact on the future, what kind of a statement is made, and many other peripheral aspects of the sport. Our investment has no physical aspect like the players, it is entirely emotional.
Often times I try to be the coach that helps keep my fellow fans focused on the positives. The one that helps to bring the emotional reactions back into a realistic focus but today I am unable to do so. Today I need my fellow fans to help me find focus. I am truly worried that if the USMNT are to lose to Belgium in the next round it will be exponentially detrimental to the growth of soccer in the United States.
For all the excitement and the devotion to be so high coming off a win over Ghana and to be so close to the upset over Portugal, I fear the crash of disappointment may be devastating. Perhaps, I am just projecting my own fears, I hope so in fact. The truth is I love this team and I want to always believe and have hope in their success but I worry that I am falling into the abyss known only to fans of the English national team.
The hopelessly devoted yet inevitably unsatisfied. I have the unusual combination of pride and worry swirling around in my guts as I await the next match against Belgium.
It has been twelve years since “Dos a Cero”, when the United States defeated Mexico to advance into the quarter finals of the 2002 World Cup. Twelve years of building momentum toward a true and lasting breakthrough into the top tier of soccer. I was so certain the USMNT would make a definitive, resounding statement in advancing from the dreaded “Group of Death” but this feels like a whimper.
I still believe in the team. I know in my heart that they can win. I know in my heart that they belong. It is simply my head that is getting in the way. The peripheral aspect. The lasting consequences. The things only a worrisome fan would even ponder at a moment like this.
Team USA advanced before thousands and thousands of fans gathered all across this country at watch parties and pubs. They advanced to the roar of the thousands cheering and chanting for this great team.
And here I sit, the foolish bloke concerned that it will not be enough. Maybe we have already arrived as a soccer nation. Maybe I have suddenly become very English. Either way, this World Cup has been an emotional roller coaster for me but I am not ready to get off. Please someone convince me the ride is not coming to an end.