To end this semester’s edition of “Beyond the Numbers,” I’m going to venture into a sport I haven’t yet discussed: soccer. Arguably the most popular sport in the world, soccer is slowly emerging in American cities, including Seattle, whose MLS team generally attracts an audience of over 40,000 spectators.
With the 2014 men’s World Cup finals just six months away, ESPN2 had coverage of the World Cup Final Draw this past Friday. Unbeknown to the average fan, the draw is one of the most vital events of the tournament, deciding the fate for the 32 remaining national teams awaiting their placement in one of eight groups.
The United States men’s national team was unlucky enough to be placed in the toughest group of the tournament, colloquially called the “Group of Death.” The group is composed of Germany, the group’s seeded team, Portugal, who has arguably the greatest player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Ghana, who eliminated the U.S. the past two tournaments.
Analysts across the country are prematurely writing the U.S. team off, predicting them to finish in either third or last place in their group, and failing to qualify for the knockout stage.
Much of the public is already expecting failure from the team who finished first in the qualifying tournament of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), where they won seven out of 10 games.
However, the team deserves much more respect and recognition than they have been given.
Although not an international power in the sport, the American team has quietly been competing against some of the world’s top competition, as well as easily beating lesser competition, something past squads have failed to do.
Led by their German head coach, Juergen Klinsmann, the program has had one of their most successful years as a team. In 2013, the U.S. hosted and remained undefeated in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, beating Panama 1-0 in the final. They also beat No. 2 Germany in a friendly, 4-3, beating a top-two team for the first time since 2009.
Klinsmann has provided the team with a no-fear mentality, pitting them against tough competition time and time again to instill confidence into his players. Americans have always played the role of underdog in international men’s soccer, but the German coach is trying to convince them that they belong in the conversation as a world superpower in the sport.
Klinsmann said his past two years as coach has served as a preparation for whatever comes their way next summer.
“We’ve improved so much within the last two and half years and built confidence and played all those games away from home in Europe, winning in Italy, getting a result in Russia and all that stuff,” Klinsmann said.
To the rest of the world, the U.S. team is entering the tournament as a major underdog. Although not an easy team to face, the other 31 teams are preparing for both Germany and Portugal to emerge from the dreaded Group of Death. Everyone, that is, except the United States.
Klinsmann and company are heading to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with the mentality that they are strong enough to compete with the best and make it to the knockout stage. Many of the players took to Twitter to convey their confidence to their fans, showing no signs of fear, but still respecting the talent of their opponents.
We, the American people, have to support our team, the team who represents the great country we live in.
We can’t expect failure from a team for underperforming in previous tournaments; we have to hope for success in the future.
The United States is still not regarded as a dominant country in the world of international football, but next summer, the country has the opportunity to emerge as one, starting with a win versus Ghana on June 16.