Monday, June 30, 2014

Butterflies No More

My sig line used to be “I have heard the scream of the butterfly,” taken from the infamous song by The Doors. I was using it in reference to the successes of US soccer, especially focusing on wins over Portugal in 2002 and Spain in 2009.

But the thing is, while that was true then, our win against Ghana and tie against Portugal, along with our performance in 2010, shows that the US is no longer a meek little butterfly. We may not be one of the top four teams in the world, nor even in that next group of six to ten that come into a World Cup with a real vision of possibly winning, but we certainly belong in the somewhat larger group of teams that will fight anyone for a chance to advance – even those top 16 – and once through, are dangerous. Very very dangerous.

Ask Christiano Ronaldo how he is feeling about how he felt playing the US. No no no, you can’t watch Jermaine Jones’ goal and think anything other than, “World Class.” You can’t look at the way the US had Portugal on their heels for much of the game and think that it was just some tough-minded , hard-workers grinding out a result.

Sorry, Charlie, but the US has awoken as a footballing nation on the field now, with the ability to take the game to anyone. And with their experiences over the last four World Cups, an attitude of fierce determination that is, frankly, unmatched. And it isn’t even close.

Seriously, show me another team that has played in as many tough situations and not hung their heads. In 2002 alone: the stunner against Portugal, the fantastic challenge of playing an incredibly passionate host nation in Korea. Mexico in Jeonju, Germany in Ulsan. In 2006, you have an awful start against the Czech Republic, but then you have nine men v. Italy. Only team to not lose to the eventual champions. That tournament didn’t finish well with the game against Ghana, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort.

And then since then, do I really even need to go there? Tie England, come back from down 2 to Slovenia, the magic against Algeria, the heartbreak against Ghana. Then in this cycle, Ghana and most recently Portugal. Where in there are there games without determination and desperation?

But now you have some real tactical acumen and more consistent skill and advanced thinking. It was developing over the last 12 years, but it seems to have really blossomed under Klinsmann.

And now we face the dark horse favorite of many, Belgium. A very talented squad to be sure, and one that deserves respect.

And most bookies have it 60/40 for Belgium. Not great odds, but not “what are you even thinking, crazy kid, they are too good for you.” But once you give Portugal what-for with a 2x4 (where Vegas certainly had worse odds), facing a really good Belgium side is nothing the US should fear.

On top of that, we aren’t butterflies in the stands or in the streets, either.  Oh no, 20,000 a game for World Cup matches? Half fill the stadium pretty much every time? Oh FIFA will have that, yes they will. And so will we. And the millions watching on televisions, computer screens, smart-phones and the like? Sorry Ann, but this is quite the soccer nation, and immigrants, while welcome to the party, are in no way the only people following this team.

We are living in quite an interesting time. The fun part is that people are getting into it in a big old way, and the water is just not receding back as far with every cycle, and it clearly has reached critical mass. Across the board, fantastic.

So sorry lads, we can’t really consider ourselves such deep underdogs anymore. Sure, we aren’t Germany or Brazil just yet, but we aren’t the shell of a team that we were for so many decades, either. No, we are a legit top 16 team in the world, and the recent run through the Group of Death certainly put paid on any arguments to the contrary.

No comments: