United States' head coach Juergen Klinsmann celebrates after his team won 2-1 during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014.
We heard your post-match snark today, Internet. We heard how you said only in soccer could a loss be a positive development, about how in good ol' American sports such preposterousness would never, ever stand.
It's time to get over your hangups, get behind this USMNT and hop fully aboard the World Cupbandwagon.
What a team to watch. Watch a team love. What team to support. After Thursday's nail-biting, stomach-churning, nerve-grating advancement through Group G into the knockout stage despite falling 1-0 to Germany, let's take stock of what we've seen over the past two weeks, America — and what might be still to come.
Yes, the USMNT was outclassed today by Germany, who dominated ball possession and finally got the goal that for so long felt inevitable despite the commendable defensive efforts of Tim Howard and Omar Gonzalez. But here's a news flash for anyone complaining: Germany is one of the world's very best teams, a truly skilled side to watch and sticking within one goal of them is no small feat. Just ask the world's top current player, Cristiano Ronaldo, whose Portugal side was waxed 4-0 in the teams' first match.
What the U.S. did in Group G over the past two weeks was, in the simplest terms, a hell of an accomplishment. Group G was hailed as the World Cup's Group of Death after the tournament draw in December. Few gave the USA much real chance of surviving. When coach Jurgen Klinsmann's contract was extended through 2018 before this year's World Cup and he stocked his 23-man roster with more young and inexperienced players than expected, speculation flared: Was the U.S. already throwing in the towel on 2014, deeming this group too hard to handle and focusing its efforts on 2018?
Not at all, as it turns out. Not at all. The U.S. survived its lethal group despite losing star strikerJozy Altidore early in their first match. They advanced despite a brutal travel schedule that saw them traverse nearly 9,000 miles to complete the group stage. They advanced despite entering the Germany game with one fewer rest day than the mighty European power. And they advanced despite three straight-matches of perplexingly mediocre play from midfielder Michael Bradley, whom many would call the USMNT's most important piece.
Is this a great team? Not by any stretch. It's probably the most talented squad the United States has ever brought to the World Cup, but far from the deep, skilled squads regularly trotted out by countries like Spain and Italy. Spain and Italy, however, both got sent packing in the 2014 group stage.
This plucky, gritty, never-say-die squad will do just fine for now, thanks.This plucky, gritty, never-say-die squad will do just fine for now, thanks.
These personalities are almost impossible not to love. There's Kyle Beckerman, the epically dreadlocked grinder who provides a steadying defensive presence in the midfield and is finally getting his first World Cup shot at 32 years old. There's Clint Dempsey, practically Captain America himself, the man who can't be slowed by the smashed nose suffered against Ghana. There's Tim Howard, the world-caliber goalkeeper and the USMNT's reliable last line of defense. There's the five-man German-American contingent, led by rugged Jermaine Jones, whose motor somehow never runs out of gas.
Then, of course, there's Klinsmann, the Americanized, relentlessly optimistic former World Cup hero for Germany who has infused this U.S. team with more excitement, more buzz and more, well, fun than any we can recall.
"We have to do it the tough way but we're going to do it the tough way," he told ESPN of advancing after last weekend's deflating draw with Portugal.
Even separated by thousands of miles and a television screen, it was hard not to want to lace up the cleats, hop off the couch, hop on a flight and follow the man into battle.Even separated by thousands of miles and a television screen, it was hard not to want to lace up the cleats, hop off the couch, hop on a flight and follow the man into battle.
And for one more awesome aspect to this edition of the USMNT, the squad is half-comprised of players from Major League Soccer, America's much-maligned domestic professional league. Think the U.S. can't compete with a team that largely plies its trade far from the glamorous leagues in Europe? Think again.
Now, to be fair, much of America has already been swept up in soccer fever. Data from the online retailer Fanatics backs this up; sales of USMNT gear are up ten-fold for the first two weeks of this World Cup compared to the opening two weeks of the 2010 edition. And this joyous read from Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard details the American soccer party currently underway in Brazil.
But just because the bandwagon is filling up fast, that doesn't mean more can't join in. The U.S. takes on Belgium at 4 p.m. ET on July 1 in its opening knockout stage match. There are currently 16 teams left standing. Beat Belgium — a tough task, but hardly impossible — and the USA will be among the final eight.
So all aboard this bandwagon now, America. There's room for everyone — all 313 million of us.