Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Heads Up After the United States Exit From the World Cup

I know this is a motorsports blog but sometimes you have so much on your mind that you have to type it out and share with an audience.

I've never been happier after a loss. The United States National Team lost in extra time 2-1 to the talented Belgium National Team but after watching the four games the national team played this year and having not missed a World Cup match since 2002, I have never been prouder of my national team.

Tomorrow is bright. It takes multiple agonizing strokes of the chisel to carve out World Cup success. The United States might have had their run end in the round of 16 for the second consecutive World Cup but the powerhouses France and Spain know what it's like to scratch and claw until they are finally on top and comparable nations of the Netherlands and Portugal are still trying to find the right path to the top.

France finished 4th and 3rd in 1982 and 1986 before failing for two consecutive World Cups before finally lifting the trophy on home soil in 1998. Spain made eight World Cups before winning in 2010. In that time frame, La Roja lost in the quarterfinals three times and lost in the knockout round on five occasions. The Dutch made seven of ten World Cups from 1974-2010. Three runner-up appearances, a fourth place, an elimination in the quarterfinals and an elimination in the round of 16 and this year Clockwork Orange are back in the quarterfinals looking to final get to the top of the mountain. Portugal maybe not have made as many World Cups as their three European brethren above but have produced arguably three players that were/are the best of their generations. Eusébio, Luís Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo. Still no World Cup and in their four consecutive World Cup appearances, Portugal have a 4th, a round of 16 elimination and two exits in the group stage.

Perseverance is essential. One can not suffocate in the past perceived failures. It causes stagnancy, not forward progression.

Time and time again I have heard Jürgen Klinsmann say the United States needs to more offensive, not sitting back waiting to counter and needing to play a style of soccer that matches the culture of the country. Every time I hear Klinsmann say that I think, "the style already matches the culture." This country is defensive with security alarm system ringing out when burglars try to violate the sanctity of home. Have you been to an airport? Take off your shoots, take off your belt and dear God you better not have a liquid over 100 milliliters. Everyone is treated like a possible threat, not a traveler looking to get away from everyday life for a week, a businessman heading to a sales conference or an ambitious individual looking to see the world and experience something new.

Parents barely let children out of their sight now considering there is a generation that would leave home at 9 a.m. in the summer and wouldn't see their parents until dinner at 5:00 p.m. Parents try to block content on television and Internet from the "innocent" eyes. We vaccinate for every disease ever know to man and use hand sanitizer like it's going out of style. We are taught never let our guard down, even in front of our own homes.

To a point, the bubble wrap society of the United States is aggravating as it makes everyone from 7-year old Johnny to 92-year old Ethel feel like a criminal, whether it's by TSA, an uptight neighbor or a picky cop.

American citizens want to be offensive. American citizens want to be in control. American citizens want to be putting the pressure on. But deep down, American citizens will settle for sitting back, protecting themselves from harm and standing strong.

While the United States National Team replicates the defensive mind of American society, it showed in all four games this World Cup and in many that has proceeded it the never die attitude that can be found in all corners of this nation. Concede a late-equalizer to Ghana? Get right back on the horse, march down and get another. Down 1-0 to Portugal? Keep pressing and put them on the ropes. Down 1-0 to Germany? Keep fighting for an equalizer despite the fact the Germans have control the game. Down 2-0 to Belgium after 105 minutes? Keep fighting. One goal at a time. Keep pressing. Do not give up. Believe.

Other nations don't know how to play from behind. They go down and get negative, start falling to piece and become individuals looking to save the day with the plan they have drawn up for themselves in their head and not communicated with those around them.

That is not how the United States plays the global game.

Tomorrow is bright. Today is difficult but not the end. The next World Cup cycle has just begun. Eyes look to Russia and 2018.

Part of me is anxious. After how well the national team played this World Cup, the expectations for the players and Klinsmann go up. That isn't necessarily a good thing. A lot could happen in four years. Let's start with the worst scenario. The United States doesn't qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The game that has grown like a flower is stomped and dragged along the cold Earth surface. The air is let out of the balloon and the naysayers grow in number with vicious disdain. It could happen but I believe it won't. CONCACAF is a rough confederation when it comes to qualifying for the World Cup but the United States should be fine.

Next scenario is qualify but bounce out in the group stage, backward progression from the past two performance. Then there is the stagnancy of being eliminated from the round of 16 for a third consecutive time. Finally there is progress of making the quarterfinals or semifinals. Then is the game changer. The dream of dreams. Winning the World Cup. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The national team will change. Tim Howard may have one more World Cup in him. As may Clint Dempsey. Michael Bradley will be well seasoned. Jozy Altidore should a shot to show what he can do. Graham Zusi, Fabian Johnson, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and many other players will get more reps together and should continue to grew.

Of course, the line stops here for a few. Oh Jermaine Jones. If only we have had more time together. Same to you Kyle Beckerman. Demarcus Beasley, thank you for four tremendous World Cup cycles. We can never repay you for all that you have done.

Then there are the kids. DeAndre Yedlin is something special. Did Julian Green foreshadow what is to come with that goal on his first touch ever in a World Cup, the same way Mario Lemieux foreshadowed his career when he scored on his first shot in the NHL? How does John Brooks develop? Mix Diskerud? Aron Jóhannsson? What about those who were left stateside such as Terrence Boyd and Joe Corona? What about some 16-year old or 17-year old who isn't on the radar yet?

One day at a time. The first assessment for 2018 is September 3rd in Prague against the Czech Republic.

I have previously felt that the general American public treats the World Cup as a gift. A party that the United States will always be at when it quadrennially pops up. That is far from the truth. Making the World Cup is a grueling journey. It is not every four years. It is four years of worldwide travel, continental battles while players try to stay healthy and fit at the club that is the best option for them whether it is domestic or abroad. It is four years of emotional investment in something out of your control. It is late nights throwing formations at the wall, thinking about what if player X gets a call-up and stomach aches that won't go away until 90 minutes are complete.

I feel after this World Cup, this journey, this roller-coaster ride, more people will understand the importance of what I explained above and if you were just on board for as long as the United States National Team was alive in Brazil, stay on. Invest some emotions. Watch friendlies, watch the Gold Cup, watch the Copa América Centenario, watch World Cup qualifiers. I'm not saying drop all your other interests and forget about the other sports you love. All I am saying is make some room for the United States National Team.

It stinks that the bus stopped in Salvador, Tony Kanaan's home town (there is the IndyCar/motorsports connection). All I have to say, if you were only on board for as long as United States National Team was alive, stay on for this World Cup as well as the next World Cup cycle. The four quarterfinals should be fantastic. Don't miss out on these games. They will be special.