It’s so, so simple for us tomorrow. Just win. Just go out against a team that is less talented than we are and score one more goal than them.
But of course it’s not that simple, not for this team and not at the World Cup. In my entire lifetime, the US has won exactly three World Cup matches… out of 20.
Of course, few of these players have much to do with that record. Some do, of course, and worryingly, they seem to reside in our defense.
And yet, when I stop thinking about 2006 and 1998 and that same awful look of fear and cowardice we’ve grown to dread out of this team on the big stage, all I can think is… holy shit, there is a very good chance that not only will the US get out of the group stage, but they could well win the group. That could very well actually happen.
What does tomorrow’s game mean for American soccer in general? Practically nothing… I’ll save the cultural stuff for after the tournament, but the sport in this country is safe. Whatever happens, soccer will still exist in America on Elimination Day+1.
So really then, it’s just about those 11 or so guys and 90 minutes on the field. It’s about Landon Donovan deciding if he’s going to be like Michael Jordan or like Karl Malone. It’s about Michael Bradley proving to himself and the world that the world’s next great holding midfielder might not be from Italy or Spain, but might be from New Jersey instead. Finally, it’s about our defense showing that with some thought, composure, skill, and blind luck, they can play beyond the sum of their parts and, for once, bar the door shut at the back.
But for once, in a sport whose fans tend to obsess on the peripheral stuff, is a moment where none of that matters. At 10 am tomorrow, David Beckham doesn’t matter. TV ratings don’t matter. English press patronizing doesn’t matter. Sunil Gulati doesn’t matter. Guiseppe Rossi doesn’t matter. Jim Rome doesn’t matter. Don Garber doesn’t matter. Brian Ching doesn’t matter. None of it matters.
All that matters is that the US goes out and plays like we know it can play when it actually believes a win is possible. If the US does that and actually, finally, plays up to its true level then Algeria doesn’t stand a chance.
All I can do now is quote Herb Brooks, a far better speechwriter than I could ever hope to be.
To the players and coaches of the USA:
“This is your time, now go out there and take it.”