US SOCCER 2014, IN THREE PARTS:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
These famous words were NOT written by – in the opinion of many, this writer included – America’s greatest storyteller. Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Miller Hemingway. A man in every sense of the word. A man’s man. A man who’s greatness was embodied by two of the most American of qualities: A fearless fighting spirit. And a ruthless unending pursuit of greatness. A man who wanted to be known as the greatest writer that ever lived. And man who, if met on the wrong end of far too many of his favorite libations, would fight you if you dared to think he wasn’t or wouldn’t eventually be just that. God bless him. And God bless the United States of America. America: Fuck yeah. They were ACTUALLY written by some guy named Charles Dickens. But who cares???
I begin my introduction to the United State’s 2014 World Cup Squad this way because, ultimately, the players we’re sending to Brazil, and the coaches coaching them, mean nothing. NOTHING. Which is good, because, if it did, we’d be in a world of trouble…
“It was the worst of times…”
For a moment, let us descend into grim realities:
A coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, who’s tenuous claims to fame include failing to win the World Cup in his home country with one of the most talented teams in recent memory and a nation bursting from years of constipation unleashing a blitzkrieg of support behind him, being fired from the only club he ever coached without leading the team for even ONE full season, and only managing the work up to the illustrious title of “consultant” in the monolith that is the MLS for the Los Angeles Galaxy ALL THE WHILE secretly playing out his last days on the field in the PDL – akin to the US third division (that’s right, we have one of those) – for the infamous side Orange County Blue Star under the shrewdly crafted alias Jay Goppingen (believe it or not, this is ALL true [smiley face] ).
A squad who’s greatest star – from every World Cup metric you can find – Mr. Landon Donavan – was deemed by Mr. Goppingen to be surplus to requirements, leaving us to pin our hopes on Clint Dempsey – recently swept out the door at Tottenham FC in the BPL (England) – Michael Bradley – done the same by Roma in the Serie A (Italy) – and Jozy Altidore – the most hated man in Sunderland (England… sort of). Beyond that, you’ve got six ‘dual-national”’ players who speak English as a second language, sixteen players who’ve never partaken in a World Cup before, and one who hasn’t even played 90 minutes in the USA shirt, ANYWHERE. For those who are keeping score: That’s ZERO field players considered to be ‘world class,’ over a quarter of which would bypass ketchup as their favored compliment to French fries. KETCHUP I SAY!
And what awaits these brave champions? Just the so-called “Group of Death”: Powerhouses Germany and Portugal – gulp, along with Ghana – the team who ended the last TWO US World Cup appearances. AGAIN, Germany – arguably the best team in the world not called Spain or Brazil who’s substitutes would even be considered ‘world class’, Portugal – with arguably the best player in the world in Christiano Ronaldo who’d be insulted if you only described him as ‘world class,’ and Ghana – kryptonite to our Superman.
Still not dismayed? Well how about this: the United States has the most difficult travel schedule of any team in team in Brazil 2014, opening in the northeastern port city of Natal, then 6 days and over 1700 miles later playing the Amazonian sweat-hut also known as Manuas – the one place NO TEAM wanted to play this summer, then traveling even farther in just 4 days back to the coast in Recife for a cake-walk against Der Meindshaft.
So there you go.
“It was the best of times…”
But all is not lost.
Because – in the glorious US of A – all is NEVER lost.
Because here we love an underdog. Our very spirit – the foundations of our culture – is founded on the precept of the great “American Dream.” The precept that against the greatest of odds – emboldened by the boldly stated declaration that “all men are created equal” – ANY person can achieve the wildest of fantasies. The precept that ‘hope’ isn’t just a good thing, but a warranted thing, because that’s what’s this whole damn country is all about, right?
This spirit has defined American soccer since it’s surging rise to relevance that started with an unlikely victor over Trinidad by a group of amateurs and struggling professionals in 1989, leapt forward via an immortal group of denim-clad warriors when we hosted the Cup in ’94, and bounded ahead again and again with courageous victories in Korea in ’02 and South Africa in ’10 (we’ll pretend France ’98 and Germany ’06 never happened, ok?). So who’s to say what lies beyond? You think the US doesn’t have what It takes, pundits? You think we can’t win? You think it’s over, do you? Well, I say to you: “Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”
This same spirit describes the American soccer fan. Contrarians at heart. Brave men and women who defy the mainstream to boldly say “Soccer doesn’t suck!” as fearlessly as Hemingway as he marched forward, ever forward, come what may. The name of our most famous fan association, the “American Outlaws” is apt. Outlaws- who don’t care what you, apathetic soccer fan, or you, condescending football/futbol fan, think. And if you don’t like that, just like Hemingway would have, WE’LL FIGHT YOU.
And so, it is out of respect to these spirited fans, and the spirited players they route for, and the spirited man who coaches them, that I leave you with this:
With all due respect to Mr. Hemingway, and Mr. Dickens, and all the great scribes, song-singers, and sooth-sayers that came before him and after: NEVER HAS THERE BEEN A GREATER STORY TOLD THAN THE ONE THAT ENDS WITH THE UNITED STATES WINNING THE WORLD CUP IN 2014. EVER.
So let us dream. And let it not be just any dream- but an AMERICAN one.
Written by Ian Robertson