?Spent and proud?: Notes on the U.S. Men?s National Team and the World Cup
– Those words in the title are three of the first few words ESPN’s Bob Ley said after the United States Men’s National Team lost to Belgium 2-1 in the World Cup’s Round of 16 on Tuesday. Churning up your insides this game made so many hopeful promises and lied its way out of so many more terrible situations – that would be thanks to Tim Howard, mostly – before ultimately leaving you on the floor stunned and without anything to say or way for your brain to function in a manner that’d be considered useful. It was so close to an escape, but not really, but in the end it was again, somehow, despite most of the match itself, pretty damn close. Close enough at least.
– I’m not going to try winning anyone over. If you don’t like soccer maybe you never will. That is okay with me. I follow the national team through their friendlies and qualifiers and other tournaments, and watch European games mostly while waiting for college football to start on Saturday mornings. If you do follow the sport, even if it’s just every four years, or whenever the national team puts on its colors, then you were here with everyone else for America’s latest moment on the World Cup stage, their latest and most painful heartbreak, and the last time we’ll see them in this particular World Cup-ian context for four forever-seeming years. If you’re here with the team now you are injured, but proud. That feels familiar.
(Soccer, by the way, is here and has been. That same question now about this World Cup of, “What will this do for soccer in America?” rubbing, finally, right up against antiquated, its new neighbor forever.)
Because that last word of the title up there is “proud,” and this is a magazine about pride in a place and a team and our views of ourselves, and what we do, because of that pride in that team and that place, we needed to say these few things about the men’s national team. The sport, in this case, is different. The feeling we choose to put behind it is the same.
– It’s the common way to describe this team – probably, hopefully, not the team it will be in 2018 – but they worked so hard. Despite their mistakes and shortcomings and face-melting near-misses, despite Belgium’s superior attack and skill. The USMNT’s thing thus far has been to grit, grind, survive and, eventually, maybe, score. It’s not their vision to stay like this forever, but it is totally captivating and inspiring and nerve-shredding to watch a team hang on without accepting that that is what they are doing. With still the belief they’ll figure it out. They nearly did.
– We can’t thank them enough for these four matches in Brazil. These, on a very basic level, four extra games in our personal sports desert between the NBA playoffs and Packers season that we could completely invest all of ourselves into. Because we did that, and celebrated the win over Ghana and sank a little with the tie to Portugal and just sorta shrugged after the qualifying loss to Germany, we also got to deflate completely and totally for a while when this winnable yet so-very-tenuous knockout match ended. After Tim Howard finally couldn’t make a miracle, and after they’d almost forced penalty kicks anyway because, I guess, America. We are not certainly perfect, and pretty much just go on believing we’re usually gonna win anyway.
– You lose and you move on. All told, spent and proud are not terrible places to be after those four matches. Later this month Packers training camp starts in Green Bay. The World Cup will be long gone. It’ll be back to normal proceedings in these parts. Four years in the future the World Cup is in Russia. This will all come back to being normal then, too.