Hanging On: The U.S. World Cup Story

By

BY PEYTON FINE

Why U.S. Soccer took hold of a nation.

World Cup fever gripped the country for the last two glorious weeks as the U.S. achieved the seemingly impossible by escaping the group of death. It was a fever that emanated from the Brazilian rainforests and cities with foreign names like Manaus and Recife. It was a fever for a foreign game that had never taken root in our country. It was a fever that we all caught because we could relate to our team.

In the lead-up to the World Cup in an attempt to increase viewership, commercials called the USA “our” team. Media outlets profiled top American players in an attempt to create a connection between the fan and the team. Quite frankly, I never thought I would feel any connection to “our” team. I haven’t played a competitive soccer game since middle school, and even then, I was never very good. How was I to become one of the likes of Tim Howard or Michael Bradley or Clint Dempsey?

Yet, there I was, along with so many others, hanging on each second of all four U.S. games. I jumped and screamed with goals, hissed with near misses, and sunk when scored upon. I enjoyed seeing so many other behind the American team. But, why? What about the team made it “ours”?

In the aftermath of the USA-Portugal match, my friend commented, “Dude, I hate soccer. I can’t watch usual soccer. It’s slow and boring. No one ever scores. I hate how it’s all Brits announcing the games. But, this USA soccer, I can relate to.” His comments ring true for so many when discussing soccer.
So, why could he relate to this team and these games? I assumed that he would go onto explain how watching the USA gave him some type of national pride or connected him to people across the States. No, he said, “The USA team is just like me.”

My response to the above comment involved assessing my friend’s sanity, but he went on to explain why he was just like the Yanks. He kept comparing the U.S. team to his life. I thought his whole story and explanation would be too corny and far-fetched with lots of metaphors and similes. His story made sense though and definitely explained how a non-soccer fan could be connected to the U.S. team.

“When that guy couldn’t clear the ball and Portugal scored right after the game started, I felt for the team. They worked hard, then all went to s**t within five minutes. It’s like at the beginning of a semester when I study relatively well for the first midterm, but know I could have done more, and then don’t do well. Now, my back’s against the wall. I dig myself out of the hole.”

The U.S. in fact did dig itself out of the hole and led Portugal 2-1. But, as we know, Ronaldo connected on a picture-perfect cross that was headed home to end the match in a 2-2 draw. My friend continued, “Man, that draw hurt because we were so close, but our hard work paid off, and we control our destiny to advance in the tournament. We also paid for our dumb mistakes like not clearing the ball and turning the ball over with one minute left in the middle of the field. It seems fair to me.”

In the next game against Germany, the U.S. was simply overmatched. The Germans were a well-oiled machine that chewed up and spat out its opponents. Imagine Germany as the Math 55 of the soccer world. By the end of the game, the U.S. lost 1-0, but by virtue of Portugal having lost 4-0 to Germany, the U.S. advanced in the tournament. Simply put, the U.S. held up better in the face of adversity than the Portuguese, and it made the difference. It was the Americans’ example of how simply hanging on can lead to some good.

In their Round of 16 matchup with Belgium, the Americans did a lot of hanging on behind the heroics of Tim Howard. The Yanks were beaten in every aspect of the game. Belgium had more possession and a barrage of shots. However, Howard made save after save to give the American a chance. (Howard made fifteen saves which nearly doubled the previous World Cup record.) All that hanging on left the team with a chance to win at the death of regulation when a golden opportunity sailed over the crossbar. Ultimately, Belgium won. As much as this hurts to say, the better team won.

All of this spirit — the flying in front of shots to block them, the attacking with reckless abandon, the constant willing themselves to hang on a little longer — I could relate to. I could get behind “our” team.
In my life, “hanging on” is surviving the week where every professor has decided it’s a good idea to schedule midterms and p-sets in the same week. My “saves” are the late-night, or all-night, session to finish projects and papers. For others, I am sure “hanging on” has a totally different meaning. I am sure “saves” are of a much different kind. However, we all have had those moments where we want to say, “F*** it!” and give up, yet we convince yourself to hang on a little longer.

Look, I am not saying that anything that happened on a soccer field was that important in the grand scheme of things. That would be asinine. What I am saying is that for two glorious weeks, I was proud to watch “our” team. I was proud because we didn’t pout or complain. We didn’t give up when the going was tough. We kept hanging on, and good things happened.
“Hanging on” was the M.O. of the U.S. soccer team. It is the philosophy, good or bad, for so many of our lives. That’s why the U.S. became OUR team.

Peyton Fine ’17 ([email protected]) will be writing weekly throughout the summer about sports and life and their overlap.