Well, here we are the morning after our USA World Cup team lost a hard fought match against one of the best teams in the world – Belgium.
We have all seen the post-mortems in print, on video, and on Twitter.
But what does it all mean to a country whose sport commitments and blind loyalties have consigned it to some very specific sports – football (American), basketball, and baseball to mention the big three?
Let me share with you some of my personal experiences of the World’s greatest sports spectacle. First of all, I live in the Southeastern Conference Country (SEC) and soccer, as we call it, it something our youngsters do to stay in shape for American Football. The SEC primacy in college football is unparalleled. What is more I live in Alabama – yes, that’s right, the State which has provided five consecutive years of representation for the SEC in the BCS National Championship game! No other State can make that statement – OR boast.
I have a good friend who owns a sports bar with fifteen television screens and on any given Saturday in the Fall, you can go there and watch all the American Football your heart can saturate.
But for the past two weeks, his marquee signs have declared, “I believe that we will win!” echoing the chants heard all across this proud Nation. And he tells me that every night or morning or afternoon when the USA was playing, he did a fantastic business. Right here in the heart of SEC country…right here in Alabama!
For that fortnight we minimized our talk about “hurry up offenses”, blitz packages, who is projected to be the SEC Champion or the National Champion. We started talking in a strange, new sport lexicon – the “pitch”, the “match”, and what in the world was “off sides”, especially when no one on the defense jumped or the offense did not flinch before the ball was snapped.
We entered into a brave new world which has expanded our notions of sport. We learned that the best “flops” did not come in the NBA, but in FIFA futból competition. We saw a competitor take off ears as well as Mike Tyson. And we began to see why the rest of the world calls it “The Beautiful Game”.
I have two young sons, aged 9 and 13, and usually they are squabbling, actually physically fighting, over the primacy of American football in Alabama. You see, one is a loyal Auburn devotee, and the other is an out-and-out “Bammer”, or Alabama radical. It is not uncommon during any time of the year that I have to separate those two from doing serious bodily harm to each other over how many championships Bama has or if Chris Davis actually stepped out of bounds in his “Kick Six” return on the final play of the 2013 Iron Bowl.
But after the ESPN promotion of the World Cup, these two combatants became very interested in our USA World Cup team. When we defeated Ghana, they were hooked like I have never seen them hooked on anything – except the Iron Bowl – to this degree. Then, with the “almost” win versus Portugal, the 2-2 “draw”, they were all in, hook, line and sinker! Portugal was considered one of the best four teams in the World, and we hung in there with them shot for shot, pass for pass, and guts for guts. The last second “equalizer” was disheartening, but getting out of the “Group of Death”, which no one thought was possible two months ago, was good enough to win the hearts of America.
For nearly a week all I heard about was, DeMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Tim Howard, not to mention whether or not Jozy Altidore would be able to play in any future “matches”.
I could not believe the transformation! They were intense, focused and absolutely imbued with “I believe that we will win!” and “One Nation, One Team”. These two aspiring American football players were enthralled with the speed, the grace, and the physical nature of “the beautiful game”.
And Papa was very pleased.
What happened to my two young sons – in the middle of SEC country – was not unlike what has happened to the rest of America. We were “All In”. Nowhere was this more evident or more verified than to witness the TV ratings with more than 20 million viewers tuning in at homes and larger venues throughout the USA. The flags, the body paintings, the plethora of “Red, White and Blue” and the general feeling that the USA had become a world class team betrayed an insular mind-set that “soccer” was just something the rest of the world did, while we were preparing for American football.
But in the 2014 World Cup, something great happened to America; not only had we joined the rest of the world in “the beautiful game”, we had become a real team to be reckoned with!
And, believe me, it felt good!
Most of us were wishing we had joined the 20-some thousand American fans who filled the Brazilian stadiums to chant and cheer and support OUR American World Cup Team! Seeing them among the rest of the World’s fans representing in such unified, positive fashion affected all of us.
And we became, indeed, “One Nation, One Team!”
Our team represented well not only on the “pitch” but in their attitudes. They never quit! They never gave up! They never even considered the possibility of defeat. They played like America!
And in their final “match”, there was no greater example of this never-say-die attitude than our goalie, Tim Howard. He blocked 16 shots – a new World Cup record! In interviews afterward, he was all class, humility, and all-American!
The enthusiasm and commitment and dedication our USA World Cup Team not only exhibited but lived by ushered in a new appreciation of what “soccer” on the world stage means for America.
I believe that we will no longer languish in the shadows of our other American sports.
I believe that more and more interest and devotion to “the beautiful game” was birthed in the 2014 World Cup competition.
And I believe that in the future that we WILL win!
Cant’ wait for 2018!
Dr. Arthur Ogden is Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy. He has worked in higher education for more than four decades. He has served as a college dean, vice-president, president, football coach, and athletic director. He is a published author and poet and writes a weekly column on issues facing America. He has also served on NCAA committees and on the All-American Football Selection Committee.