Tim Howard once had a “who’s-more-American” contest with a bald eagle and lost, but only on a technicality. He sneezes fireworks and his great grandfather was the love child of Uncle Sam and Betsy Ross. Unfortunately when the hero of your team is your goalie, it’s not so bueno for your chances.
Several million of you guys tuned into watch the U.S. National Team over the last couple weeks. Some of you never really got the whole soccer thing, and that’s ok. You can go back to whining about how soccer players are always diving, and how it’s So Very Confusing that the clock goes up instead of down, and “I don’t care if they use their feet, that’s not real football!” That’s fine. Grab a PBR, put on another baseball game that doesn’t mean anything, and go back to yelling at your barefoot and pregnant wife who probably hates you. I don’t care about you.
Judging by the texts I got from non-soccer friends during random non-U.S. games, some of you guys really got it. I’m genuinely happy for you, and I hope you tune into the rest of the tournament. When it’s done, catch an MLS game, or a Champion’s League game or two, which can be even more entertaining than World Cup games (and even has some of the “our country is better than yours” factor). I’m more than happy to have you jump on and off the soccer train whenever you want. But I don’t care that much about you either.
One of you several million viewers is a middle-aged white guy with a small business. I care about you. One day soon you’re going to get asked to sponsor a youth team and you’re going to remember how exciting it was when Costa Rica held off a Greek onslaught such as the world hasn’t seen since Brad Pitt or whoever it was in that movie with the swords. You’re going to remember how you felt when Costa Rica won, and you’re going to say yes to that youth team. One of the kids on that team is going to make a difference, and you’re going to help them.
One of you several million is a poor black kid from the projects who looked up to Lebron, but got cut from your basketball team for being too short. I care about you. You saw a 5 foot 7 inch Argentine with magic in his boots and winning in his veins singlehandedly send a country into bliss by making art with his left foot. You started wondering about maybe picking up a soccer ball. You’re going to make a difference one day.
One of you is a mid-level manager at a crappy marketing firm. Soon you’re going to accidentally make more money than you can count running a Fortune 500 company. You’re going to get tired of investing in another crappy carwash, so you’re going to buy an MLS team instead. You’re going to make a difference.
One of you is a European coach here on vacation who thought American players worked hard and had great attitudes (they are American, after all), but didn’t have what it takes to play at the highest level. Americans don’t worship at the soccer altar like the rest of the world, after all. What surprised you most was a nation that sent more fans to Brazil than any other country in the world. You saw a twinkle in the collective eye of that nation, and you think it might be worth taking one extra scouting trip here. You’re going to discover the next world superstar. It’s only a matter of time. The numbers game says a great American star will rise, and you’re going to give him a shot on the biggest stage. I care very much about you.
Over the course of four games, the U.S. team showed in this tournament how far we’ve come. The thing about soccer is that there is so much randomness involved that teams can play great and lose. Das Nats played pretty well. In World Cups past, making it out of a group with two world powers and one pretty great African team would’ve taken a miraculous performance. This year, we sent Portugal and Ghana packing with, well, just a few pretty good games. Then we took a team of strong-jawed pretty boys who collectively make a stupid amount of money for their club teams into extra time and lost by inches. That’s what progress tastes like.
If we were any other country, we’d be happy. We’d say things like, “Well, we showed pretty well.” Or, “We were looking forward to the next World Cup cycle anyway.” But that’s not how ‘Merica rolls. I feel gutted. We could’ve made it farther. We could’ve played better. Sure, we had a goalie that brushes his teeth with apple pie, has two baseballs for testicles, and is so filled with freedom power that he made more saves against Belgium than any keeper for 50 years. But we believed. And we lost.
The good news is we’ll keep coming. We’ll keep dragging our kids to their hundredth soccer practice of the season. We’ll send more of our players to other countries (with bad food) to play with their overpaid heroes with silly haircuts. Our guys will learn. And one day we’ll show up with a team that can match the world skill for skill. But they’ll be American. They’ll try harder, work for each other, and won’t get sent home for yelling at their coach, or freaking biting someone, or showing up drunk….err, wait.
So put that shiny, new scarf back in the closet, football fan. Hang up the American flag t-shirt and Uncle Sam hat for another few years. Let me speak for all soccer fans and say we were more than happy to have you and hope to see you again. And I want you to know that somewhere there’s a kid kicking a torn up ball against a wall for the millionth time. Working on his skills. Perfecting his touch. Practicing the move he saw Messi the magician pull off. You’ll see him in four years. He’ll be the American one. And he’ll believe, just like we do.
Things we believe: Ask and you shall receive. Giving 110% is possible (math isn’t our strong suit.) Kim Kardashian is worthy of her own TV show. And we will win. All of it. One day. We’re still the U.S. of OlÃ©, after all. And we’re still better than you. So there.
Now if anyone needs me, I’ll be over here crying: @fastacton