Warning: a lot of regret and remorseful sentences as well as TIM FREAKING HOWARD lines are going to be in this post so bear with me because the good stuff will follow the bad.
I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. I’m glad the U.S. lost. Now don’t burn me at the stake just yet, remember, I warned you. But first.
TIM FREAKING HOWARD! Okay, moving on.
The first time I ever watched the United States men’s national team or #USMNT as they go by on Twitter, was back in 2010 in their match against Ghana. I was working at a summer camp and the staff was watching the game on a projector screen. Disappointment wretched us all when the U.S. was defeated, but not much was talked about afterwards.
The next day was normal. No lingering emotions from the events of yesterday’s game. It was…normal. 2010 was the first display of the United States’ connection with soccer. It’s a bandwagon effect. Every four years, anyone not an American Outlaw joins the wagon to soak in our country being represented in a world event for the hope of coming out the best in the world. And with every four years comes the betrayal of these “loyal” fans as they exit the wagon and hop on the next bus to the NFL. I was one of them.
Before the World Cup even started, the bandwagon/outlaws joined forces to align against coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to cut American darling Landon Donovan. I didn’t know much about the decision so I stayed away from criticism and studied the decision. It made sense. He did create a lot of scoring opportunities when he played, which may or may not have benefited the team in Brazil. We’ll never know, but Klinsmann’s decision did two things: made us focus on the US as a team and made the country expect something great to happen from omitting Donovan.I didn’t buy into the bandwagon effect nor did I plan on doing so in the Donavon debacle.
This effect is the reason I wrote how I wasn’t rooting for any country in the World Cup, including the United States. I stated how the country of my roots, Dominican Republic, would be the only country I’d root for, but not the U.S. The reasoning behind that decision was because I did not want to get sucked into the bandwagon effect again. The U.S. was in this year’s “Group of Death” to many experts so off the bat, any hope the U.S. would even make a legitimate run was folly (We’ll get back to hope in a second).
So I watched the World Cup, cheering on nobody, and boy was I glad I did. During the U.S. vs. Ghana game, I missed Dempsey’s quick score, but kept thinking to myself Ghana would eventually score. Eventually, they did, with minutes left to play. ‘Here we go again,’ I thought, until John “The Dreamer” Brooks headed the ball into the net to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead and an eventual win.
The U.S. won. The U.S. won? Yeah, they won, and I felt excited and I didn’t know why until the Portugal game happened. As I sat in Naples 45 in New York watching the game, the restaurant erupted in applause when the U.S. scored against Portugal to take the lead. The restaurant also groaned and became silent when Portugal tied the game with seconds left. And then the Germany game happened where we lose, but yet everyone is still celebrating we moved on to the Round of 16.
Let that sink in. The United States lost and the United States celebrated…
And all of this led me to running out of the 2 train and almost tripping on the stairs and potentially getting run over by cars as I rushed to my house to not miss a minute of the U.S. vs. Belgium match.
On the edge of my couch, my eyes bulged during every Belgian and U.S. attack. I jumped on every one of TIM FREAKING HOWARD’s 16 saves. I fell to the ground when Chris Wondolowski missed what would’ve been the game-winning goal as my parents threatened to turn the TV off because of how loud I was. I went to my room after Kevin De Bruyne scored for Belgium and told my brother to turn the TV off when Romelu Lukaku scored the second goal for Belgium.
Until the U.S. did what they have done the entire tournament. They gave hope.
19-year-old Julian Green got a beautiful shot passed Thibaut Courtois, who played a decent game, but not as great as TIM FREAKING HOWARD. It was 2-1 and the U.S. got several chances to tie it up and send it to penalty kicks. The whistle blew and the Belgian team jumped for joy. I sat there, looking at my screen, with my hand on my chin and a scowl on my face that rivaled a seven-year-old’s when mommy says no.
I didn’t speak. I didn’t cry. I went on a walk.
On my walk, Twitter went crazy with #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave and the multitude of gratitude given to the U.S. team for their run, but I was more focused on what I saw and what I was thinking. Kids and adults were engaging in soccer by the green space near my house after the match. People were talking about the game and what could’ve happened. And in my thoughts, I said.
‘We could’ve won.’
The keyword in the aforementioned sentence is ‘we.’ Before the World Cup began, I identified with no team. With the end of the U.S. run, I have identified with the team, but not just because of their play, because I didn’t see the bandwagon effect in play anymore. Co-workers wore patriotic jerseys and ties. Twitter was filled with recaps and reactions to each U.S. game. Everywhere I walked, people were talking about U.S. soccer. Sure, many of these were not loyalists to the team before the World Cup, but the bandwagon effect means people get off the bandwagon after. After this World Cup, many stayed on that weren’t on the wagon to begin with, which means the soccer population and interest is heightening. And today, a day after the U.S. lost, it still feels like we won.
We won because the 2014 U.S. men’s national team will forever be remembered as the team that completed the improbable task of making soccer relevant to those who weren’t just American Outlaws or interested in international play. The ‘I Believe’ chant that started as a chant only a few knew became the anthem of a country that believed this team could win. And like stated, even though we lost, we won. We believed this team could win and they did win.
They won us (pun intended).
We won because soccer is changing the American life and it has reached the plateau to make the change visible. Sure, this was just one month, only time will tell, but the fact I and an entire country is still recovering from the loss, it doesn’t seem like a phase. It has been a slow process, but it’s finally here.
And that’s what I regret. I regret it took me so long. I regret I didn’t go to the viewing parties in Bryant Park or paid the American Outlaws chapter in New York a visit at Jack Demsey’s. I regret I wasn’t pulling for the U.S. for fear of disappointment. But damn am I proud I realize it now.
Soccer is no longer something Americans will hop on a bandwagon every four years to check out and see what happens. It is now a part of American culture. Not only can’t I wait for the 2018 World Cup, I can’t wait for the U.S.’ next matchup. Why? Because…
I believe that.
I believe that.
I believe that we.
I believe that we.
I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!
Now you see why I’m glad we lost?
Follow me on Twitter: @illbefrankie