By: Dan Leach
On the soaked pitch in the midst of a driving rainstorm in Recife, Brazil, the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team knew it was on the precipice of history. Never before in this country’s World Cup history, by far the single biggest sporting event in the world, has the team been to two straight Knockout Round appearances. To bring that home locally – that would be like the Detroit Lions going to two straight Super Bowls when you look at both teams past histories.
At the end of the day Thursday; Germany (2-0-1) beat the United States (1-1-1) 1-0.
Yes, there were endless scenarios as to how they could get thru, or the few unlikely of them not, but the bottom line was if Team USA just played the way they have so far in this World Cup, there was a great chance history would be made. I have had a tremendous back and forth over the past two weeks with people about how popular soccer really is in this country and how so many just do not realize “The Beautiful Game’s” reach into American hearts and minds.
People will use the argument that soccer is too boring to catch on, that the 1994 World Cup in the U.S didn’t end up doing anything to grow the sport. That is simply 100 percent false! After the ’94 Cup soccer grew exponentially in this country adding at least 15-20 million new fans and players in just a 10 year period. After the US’s epic run in the 2002 Cup in South Korea, the sport has grown by 44 percent in just the last 12 years, with over 70 million soccer fans in the United States. It is gaining more and more steam as well with each USMNT World Cup heart-stopping second.
This current roster is the best 23 the States has ever brought to a World Cup, which is why even an American hero in Landon Donovan can be kept off the team and have it makes sense. Even with a rare sports twist of fate, by losing to Germany, the USMNT is thru to the second round. That may seem silly to some that you can lose and still win but what it did was set up a chance for there to truly be a chance at a historic run thru the Knockout Rounds. In the globe’s biggest game all you really need is a chance, just ask England and Spain, two world soccer powers, how they feel today.
Let’s all be honest, that Thomas Muller cracker off the rebound in the 55th minute , one of the longest distance scores in the entire 2014 Cup, was unstoppable even by one of the best Keepers in the World in Tim Howard.
The gap, though, between a team like Germany — easily one of the top three in the World — has closed dramatically in recent years and that is why what is ahead could truly be transcendent for U.S. Soccer.
There have been four seminal moments in modern USMNT history.
The 1989 World Cup qualifier in Trinidad and Tobago that Pu the USMNT back into the Cup for the first time in 40 years.
The win over tournament favorite Columbia in the 1994 Cup in front of 93,869 at the Rose Bowl- The U’S’s first World Cup victory since 1950.
The Group game in 2002 in South Korea against star studded Portugal that the U.S won 3-2, helping them get to the Knockout Round for the first time since the first World Cup in 1930.
And most importantly the epic 2-0 win over Mexico in the Round of 16 in 2002- pushing the USMNT thru to their first Quarterfinal in the modern era. Before the 2002 Cup Team USA had only won two World Cup games. This was their third win in just the 02′ World Cup and to do it against El Tri made it only that much more special.
Now everyone wants to know what’s next? What does Team USA have to do to truly bring this sport in America to new and respectable heights? The case can be made that they have already made insanely tremendous strides and really can be considered a threat against the World’s best. The truth is that until the USMNT can really be respected as a squad that has a realistic chance to actually win a Cup, so many will never believes that soccer can matter in this sports rabid country.
We want to be winners, not just participants, and with the recent U.S runs in World Cups that is becoming more and more a reality. Are we there yet? Of course not, but you must crawl before you can walk, walk before you can run. You can definitely say that we are into at least a mild sprint right now and that is leaps and bounds beyond what so many could have hoped for back in 1994 when the game exploded onto the landscape.
Just take a look at all the World Cup watching parties throughout the country so far — maybe you have planned a party and your day around one of the U.S’s matches so far in the World Cup. Even the faintest of soccer fans are starting to see just how truly special this game, that the World over knows is brilliant, can be, as well as do to your sports loving soul.
I mean heck President Obama went off-script and immediately talked about the USMNT team during a speech minutes after the final whistle against Germany sounded. That simply would not have happened in the past.
Now the USMNT gets a true break by getting a chance to face either Belgium, Russia, or Algeria in the Round of 16 and with the way Team USA has played so for, there is no reason to think they don’t have a legitimate chance against any or all of them. Then would likely come one of the tourney favorites in Argentina in the Quarters and that is the game that could be the tipping point. A win over Lionel Messi and company to book a ticket to the semi’s would be lauded in this country much like the victory over the Russians by the US Men’s hockey team in 1980’s Miracle on Ice, which gained millions of hockey fans by the second.
That of course is wishful thinking and seems eons away, but it is a moment like that, a moment that the USMNT could have only had in their wildest dreams 20 years ago, that is becoming more and more of a reality. Raise a glass to the USMNT, who, so far have shown, that we can be unbelievably proud of who they are, what we are becoming, and that this country’s soccer future is only getting brighter and brighter.