World Cup 2014: Americans Love Being The Underdog
Americans are starting to love soccer. Or do they just like being the underdog?
As the 2014 World Cup approached in early December of 2013, the United States drew tough competition in their Group during the selection night. Not only did they have to face Ghana, a team that knocked them out of the World Cup four years ago, they also had to play Christiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and the endless amount of top strikers in Germany.
The FIFA World Cup Rankings had Germany ranked second, just behind Spain, and Portugal a couple spots below at four. Ghana sat at 37, while the United States began play at 13.
It was the “Group of Death”.
Although soccer is on the rise in America, it isn’t thought as a major sport in the United States. When people in America think of major team sports, they think of football, basketball, baseball, and hockey.
But after so much hype from ESPN and social media, the World Cup has taken off in the United States. People traveled into Brazil, where the World Cup is being held, to support the Yanks in their journey to shock the world in the World Cup. Yet, it still seemed impossible that the United States would have any shot at clinching a final 16 spot in the tournament.
Only two teams can move on from the group stage. Clearly, the favorites were Germany and Portugal. And because Ghana stunned the Americans in 2010, defeating USA 2-1, analysts didn’t even believe America would win a game, yet score a goal in a game. So many questions. No answers. But one thing was sure, the United States would receive support from all around the country.
When you look at international basketball, you already know that the United States will be in the final game and win. There’s no fun in that for Americans. It’s just blowouts every night. When you think of baseball, you know the Americans will always be competing in international play against the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. The Americans have the most talent when it comes to baseball.
Hockey’s the same. The United States will usually face Canada or Russia in the final game. While those games can get dicey, Americans know that they can wait until the semi-finals to watch their country try to get gold or first place in an international tournament. Lastly, football isn’t played internationally.
Therefore, the only underdog our entire country has is the United States soccer team. They aren’t supposed to be good. Soccer is the most populated sport in this world. But it’s clearly not popular enough in America. However, it would be extremely exciting to watch the Americans stun the world and win the World Cup.
With countless days of practice before the World Cup, manager Jurgen Klinsmann opted to select younger players for his squad, leaving seven players off the 23-man roster, including the leading United States goal scorer Landon Donovan. This was going to be Jurgen Klinsmann’s first World Cup coaching the United States squad. He signed back in July of 2011 and was extended in December of 2013. It was a bold move by the former Germany assistant, pushing for his younger talent to come through.
Leaving Donovan off the team created massive headlines around America, helping United States soccer market their team for the World Cup.
More questions. No answers.
Klinsmann left off the best American player for younger athletes who haven’t made a name for themselves. Then he told the media that it wasn’t realistic for this United States squad to even come close to winning the World Cup.
No one understood how to react to his comments. What did he mean? You’re telling me that the United States of America has no chance to win a World Cup, when there are 318 million people living here? We can’t find 23 players that have more skill than these other countries?
But that’s the beauty of soccer. We don’t have the best players, even with the third highest population in the world. That’s what makes this World Cup interesting for the many viewers that are tuning in.
In the first game of the World Cup, on June 16th, the United States defeated Ghana in an amazing 2-1 victory. United States captain Clint Dempsey scored the first goal in less than 33 seconds to go out to a 1-0 lead. America erupted. However, their best striker Jozy Altidore, injured his hamstring later in the game, and had to come out of the game for Aron Johannsson, who really didn’t make any noise when he came on for Altidore. With a couple of nice saves from Tim Howard, the United States looked well on their way to a first win, although they were outplayed all game. Nevertheless, Ghana came soaring back in the 82nd minute of action as Andre Ayew drilled a goal past Tim Howard to tie the game.
Hope turned into reality. Or we thought. The United States worked the right side all game, and somehow Fabian Johnson was able to get Ghana to touch the ball last for a corner kick. Graham Zusi, who had come in as a sub, kicked a beautiful corner kick, which found another substitute, John Brooks, and he headed it in for the second goal of the game. The United States held on for a 2-1 victory. And everyone started to believe.
Americans knew the real test was going to begin in their next two games. They were undoubtedly outmatched against Ghana as they couldn’t control the ball for most of the game. They escaped with a victory. But Klinsmann knew that this team had a lot of work to do.
Because Germany defeated Portugal 4-0 in their first match during the group stage, all the United States had to do was win one more game and they were in and through to the knockout stage.
Portugal’s Nani scored a goal five minutes into the game when Geoff Cameron, who could have been the man of the match after the Ghana game, botched a clearance, allowing Portugal to go on top 1-0. However, the United States started to pick up the pace and control the game much better than they had against Ghana. In the 64th minute, Jermaine Jones connected on an absolutely brilliant shot, making a far shot from the left side of the net and hitting the back end of the right side of the net. The game was tied.
We believed. Then came more.
DeAndre Yedlin, another late sub, made an immediate impact as he ran down the right side of the field as Jermaine Jones passed him the ball. Yedlin got all the way down the field before crossing a decent ball to Dempsey. It was deflected to Bradley. He also had trouble with the ball, but it trickled off his foot to Graham Zusi on the left side where he gave Dempsey a perfect pass that hit off his chest and into the net. It was 2-1 and the United States took the lead with a little over 10 minutes to go. The United States held on until the last possible chance for Portugal resulted in a goal. Bradley lost possession around midfield, which allowed Ronoldo to center a beautiful pass to Silvestre Varela, who got behind the United States defense to tie the ball game.
Another let down.
One more stop; one more save, and the United States would have been through to the knockout stage in the World Cup. But they couldn’t finish it off. While they were still in a great position going into their final game to make the knockout stage, faces in Brazil looked concerned. From the players to the coaches to the fans. They had blown their chance to breathe.
The players said all the right things following their match against Portugal. To have four points in their first two matches against the “Group of Death” was pretty good. Just the way they lost the other two points was heartbreaking. But Klinsmann insisted that the United States would make the knockout stage the hard way. After all, they did have to travel the most millage compared to any other team in the tournament.
Klinsmann and the United States got their wish. Portugal defeated Ghana 2-1, allowing the United States to keep the goal differential low and enter the knockout stage, although they lost to Germany 1-0.
In the game against Germany, the conditions were brutal. Rain had been pouring all day and night. The pitch was soggy and wet. Neither team looked very good out there. However, to only lose to Germany by one goal had to be a confidence booster. The United States had a couple chances late in extra time, where they almost scored the tying goal.
And that’s where we stand now. The United States of America survived the Group of Death. The number four team in the world was kicked out by the underdogs. It’s a really good feeling, if you ask me.
There are no expectations for this team. The more they do, the more exciting it will be. But no one, not even their own coach, expected this team to make it through to the knockout stage.
Ok. Maybe he did expect it. But he sure as heck didn’t want to ruin any hearts when his team didn’t move on.
Being the underdog, with so much support, helps players perform freely without being under the spotlight. Although they were under the spotlight constantly on ESPN and other top sports networks, the media continually portrayed the American team as poor.
But it doesn’t matter what the media says. It matters about how the United States performs. It matters about how much energy the fans have. It matters the most because we’re one team. And we’re one nation. Nothing will stop us from rooting for the United States of America. We love being the underdog. When we’re told that we’re not good enough, we want to prove that we are.
It’s the American way.
The World Cup is just getting started now that we’re in the knockout stage. Support these Americans when they face Belgium at 4:00pm est on Tuesday. Join the American movement. Become an underdog with the nation we all call home.
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