Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Soccer Shows America It Isn't Special… And That's Ok

Even Tim Howard's record-setting performance couldn't save the US against Belgium.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

The US Men's National Team fought with everything they had. Superhuman goalie Tim Howard made a World Cup-record 16 saves, and young lightning Julian Green scored on his first touch of the tournament, late in extra time, to keep the boys alive…

But America still lost.

That's soccer, or football as the rest of the world calls it, and if this World Cup has shown me anything it's that, while I still believe my country is great, we aren't special.

There was no miracle finish, no historic run, just a good team bowing out to a better team in the treacherous Round of 16. Make no mistake, Belgium dominated the US, and it was a testament to the collective will of the men representing the stars and stripes that this game made it to extra time, but even that is no different than what Algeria did to Germany the day before.

During the game I couldn't help but think of the few lines I skimmed over from Ann Coulter's "column" on soccer. I couldn't read much more of it after her asinine opening statement of "any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation's moral decay (it should be noted that everything that happens ever is a sign of the nation's moral decay to Coulter)," but the gist of her argument is this:

We shouldn't like soccer because players have to work as a team, and individuals don't get credit or blame (she should see the salaries/endorsements star players draw in Europe and the terrible things they used to do to players that made high-profile mistakes in South America).

We also shouldn't like soccer because immigrants like soccer (xenophobic), because soccer is girly (impressively misogynistic for a female writer and implicitly homophobic), and because it's something they do throughout the rest of the world that we don't.

Obviously, all of her "points" are either flawed or grounded in an intolerant and hateful world view that will help her pander to angry, stupid people, but I want to touch on the last one.

Even if you hate foreigners, hate women and hate gays, but love (white, straight, male) America, why would you not want the US to embrace something that has been so successful, fun and profitable in the rest of the world? Coulter mentions the metric system, and that we shouldn't use it because we're different from the rest of the world and special.

Here's something to remember my fellow Americans: You can believe America is the greatest country on Earth, but that doesn't mean we can't borrow stuff from other places. The metric system makes way more sense than our standard system, that's why scientists and drug dealers use it!

When America qualified for the World Cup and made its push out of group play, US fans got excited, just like the fans of every other country in the world. Does that mean we're stooping to their level? Of course not, and would you believe that I've only seen a few "soccer sucks anyway" Tweets/Facebook statuses since last night (and co-editor Jeremy Conlin's was ironic… I think).

No, when America lost, people weren't abandoning or belittling soccer, they were proud of the team! Howard made a heroic effort in net, DeMarcus Beasley played with the wisdom we expected from a veteran of his stature, Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones battled through the pain of broken noses and oft-maligned midfielder Michael Bradley continued covering ground like the Energizer Bunny.

They just didn't have enough, bringing things full circle.

If America wants to win the world's tournament, it will have to begin taking the world's game as seriously as everybody else. From the scenes we saw across the country in California, Washington, Kansas, Illinois, New York and Florida, the fans seem ready to get on board.

From the scenes we saw on the field, there is young talent, and that youth should be served in next year's Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying in the years after. The 19-year old Green showed the burst and aggressiveness that have landed him a spot in the farm system of German club power Bayern Munich.

20-year old DeAndre Yedlin came on as America's first sub and showed incredible speed and a knack for attacking on the wing, providing rare moments of hope for an American goal in the game's first 100 minutes. Bradley, the team's best player when taking on a more defensive role, is still only 26, and top defender Omar Gonzalez is only 25. Both of those guys will be back to help prop up Jurgen Klinsman's surprisingly stout defense, even after world-class keeper Tim Howard (currently 35) moves on from international play.

Counting returning forward Jozy Altidore, who is only 24, the US will come into Russia in 2018 being able to choose from 16 players that have made national side appearances who will be 30 and under, and are currently playing in upper-level foreign leagues. Add in the fact that the MLS is churning out capable international players at the level of Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Dempsey and Bradley, and you have the foundation for a pretty solid team.

Will that squad go any further than this one? Who knows, but from what we've seen the fan support will be there, and the USMNT will be a tough out for anyone. That doesn't make them (or us) special, but that does give America an entertaining platform to stand as equals with the rest of the world, something I think young America is excited about, and fear-mongering trolls like Coulter can't stand.

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