It was heartbreaking but not entirely undeserved nor unexpected, but still . . . that doesn’t make it hurt any less. We could all use a cuddle. There will be time to do a postmortem on what broke down and where things went wrong and what the USMNT can and must do better going forward (See what we did there?), but for now, we’re licking our wounds (with pride, mind you) and focused on the abundance of good and what Ian Dury called “reasons to be cheerful.” Here’s Ian performing his list, what follows below is ours on this day-after the USA’s exit from the best World Cup in, well, maybe ever.
Analyzing the USMNT Exit from the World Cup: Reasons to Be Cheerful (in no particular order)
- We came to play and play we did. Timmy Fucking Howard, America. #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave
- We had a crazy-hard group (“of death”) and went further than previous World Cup winners Italy and Spain and (gulp) England.
- Unlike some countries (ahem, England), we are progressing rather than regressing, waxing not waning.
- At many times, we entertained and captivated more than perennial powerhouses Brazil and Argentina did.
- The USMNT (and the USWNT) is a team, not a collection of one or a few or many individual superstar and their egos who can (or cannot) play together.
- DeAndre Yedlin’s pace, trickery, and crosses
- Julian mothaflippin’ Green
- #IBelieve (and we did and we still do)
- Beating our bogey team Ghana
- Drawing with CR7’s Portugal
- Only conceding one goal to Germany
- Keeping step with a current Belgian side that has more individual talent, big names, and high-paid superstars than the US has had cumulatively
- Toughness and grit: Many players flop and dive and go down easy, the USMNT played on with two broken noses, yo.
- Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann
- US Soccer Technical Director Jürgen Klinsmann
- Both of the above all the way through to 2018
- Social-media lovefest and interactions and connections galore
- Media coverage and ratings and amazing attendance at gatherings that showed matches
- America cared about and loved this team.
- The rest of the world cared about and loved this team. Listen to Barry Glendenning‘s praise on The Guardian‘s World Cup Football Daily Podcast.
- America turns out great keepers, Tim Howard being one of the very finest ever, and there is depth behind him.
- Diversity of ethnic backgrounds and the stories behind these players and how/why they chose to rep the States
- The inventiveness of that set piece. Damn you, Courtois!
- No (Jermaine) one (Jones) lost his shit and went in with a brutal tackle or picked a fight or got sent off or did anything terrifically shameful.
- While hardly Barça, Bayern, or Arsenal (on a good day), we are playing the most-attractive soccer the USMNT has ever played and it is highly watchable and entertaining. Think we’re biased?
- No own goals or PKs given away
- John “WTF just happened?!?!” Brooks
- There is a clear-and-unique style to our national team’s game. It’s not samba or tiki-taka, but it’s not parking the bus or sitting back or playing dirty, and at times, it’s amazing; it’s grown beyond “run fast play hard,” finally.
- That American soccer style is gritty, hard-working, fearless, tireless, team-oriented, relentless, never-say-die, fill weaknesses with strengths, help a brother out. Basically, it’s in keeping with the best of American identity and values.
All of which leads us to perhaps the most-optimistic takeaway of all from this breathtaking World Cup cycle for the US: Our campaign was not a novelty. One might say that expectations were high when we hosted in ’94, but it was still a novelty (in the truest sense of the word and in the idiomatic sense) for American sports fans. We had no domestic league and our national interest was piqued mostly because the games were on our doorstep. We came in dead last of the 32 in 1998 in France. We fielded capable teams in 2002 and 2010 (not so much in 2006), but there was never any expectation of going the distance.
This year was different. We expected to win. Each game. We expected to win because we knew these players and we were familiar with their capabilities. We watched them here at home (Klinsmann took 10 MLS players to Brazil — 7 started against Germany) in a thriving-and-growing domestic league and we knew them from their spells at European and Mexican clubs. We watched them dominate the Hex and bring home a Gold Cup. We argued endlessly about Jones vs. Beckerman at CDM and whom to play up top. We fretted over Joze’s lack of games at Sunderland and how that would hurt him in terms of fitness and confidence. We had these discussions because we cared and we had options to consider. Cutting the squad to a final 23 was painstaking because we finally had options. Ultimately, Klinsmann opted to leave home America’s most-decorated-and-experienced player in Landon Donovan to much national pearl-clutching. Jürgen and the federation can repeat “this was about winning now” ad nauseam but don’t be fooled — the selection of John Brooks (goal), Julian Green (goal), and DeAndre Yedlin (blazing speed and sumptuous crosses) was about the next cycle and the next cycle is almost too promising to consider. The future is bright.
Much respect is due US Soccer and their marketing partners — they were able to mine our collective patriotism to lure in not only the casual fan but the non-fan as well. ESPN’s coverage was excellent. Ratings records were broken and then broken again. People stayed home from work to watch because they had hope — they believed.
“The USA deserve credit for their approach. Even Klinsmann had understood the power of belief by the end. On conclusion of the group stage he told his players’ families to re-book their return flights for after the final on 13 July. It was always an optimistic line but that is in keeping with the way that his team have attacked this World Cup. Despite being outmanoeuvred at times by technically superior teams, they have always tried to carry the game to their opponents when they can … That approach won many admirers back home. The sight of tens of thousands of fans packing into Soldier Field – home to the NFL’s Chicago Bears – to watch this game on a giant screen will give hope to those who yearn to see the USA embrace another kind of football. They believe that a culture shift is occurring. They believe that this is a beginning, not an end.” –Paolo Bandini, The Guardian