From June 12 to July 13, the world will be captivated by once-every-four-years wonder that is the FIFA World Cup. Teams, players and fans will descend on one country (this year, it is Brasil) in order to watch their respective national teams play and hopefully beat those of the other nations.
Personally, I was cheering for a U.S. victory, which about as high as one could hope. But as most of us now know, whether you were following the World Cup or not, the U.S. was eliminated by Belgium, 2-1 on Tuesday, July 1. But despite what some other soccer fans are most likely feeling after their elimination (here’s looking at you, Spain and England), I could not be happier with the U.S. team. Their amazing performance proved something important to the rest of the world.
The U.S. came into the Cup with the odds stacked against them, having been assigned Group G for the 2014 World Cup, which the media had nicknamed the “Group of Death.” Group G contained Germany, a European soccer powerhouse, Portugal, with their world renowned striker and captain Cristiano Ronaldo, and Ghana, a team the U.S. has struggled with in the past (the U.S. lost to Ghana in the group stage in 2006 and again in the knockout Round of 16 in 2010). Most people thought the U.S. team was out before they had even set foot on the pitch.
But we did not give up hope. We chanted “I believe that we will win!” and we did. Technically.
After an inspiring-if-sloppy 2-1 victory over Ghana, a deflating last-minute 2-2 tie with Portugal and a nerve-wracking 0-1 loss to Germany, the U.S. advanced through the group stage along with Germany. The U.S. was on to the knockout rounds, starting with the Round of 16. We did not make it any farther than that unfortunately, but I think most U.S. fans went away from that game happy overall. Sure it was a devastating loss, but we went farther than anyone thought we would and we showed what U.S. soccer talent can be.
I think we needed something like this, as a country. Soccer is such a universal sport and as we as a society expand and the reach of the individual starts to push international boundaries, we need something we all can relate to. The sense of unity soccer provides is perhaps even stronger here at home. We all love to cheer on a sports team, so what could be better than cheering with most of your country for the same team? National teams also bring national recognition and praise for the players that make the difference. Tim Howard had a World Cup record 16 saves in the game against Belgium, and he was rewarded with numerous internet memes about the things he could save (the dinosaurs, Mufasa and the Titanic just to name a few).
Let’s take a step back for a second and address the elephant in the room. Soccer, or football/fútbol as it is known everywhere else, has just never been as big in the U.S. as it has been overseas. But I think that’s slowly changing, and for the better. To me at least, soccer fulfills a unique role when it comes to watching sports. Yes, it can end in a tie and the pace can get rather slow. But that same slow pace can pick up to the point where you lose your voice yelling. While every sport has its unappealing aspects, soccer provides the most constant action, amazing displays of talent and athleticism, and so many magical miracle goals.
So yes, those at home and abroad that think the U.S. has no business in international soccer can look at this year and only observe the loss, but myself and a lot of other people around the world know better. They know that we will not take this lying down. Our national team will evolve and train. They will come back harder, better, faster, stronger and ready to go all the way in 2018. And the fans will be right behind them.