That’s become the hallmark of this U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT): Belief. Simply believing has helped us finally win some games in Europe — including Italy. That belief helped us finally beat Mexico in the dreaded Estadio Azteco, and also draw with them there during the qualifiers (And beat them stateside). That belief sprung us to the top of the CONCACAF qualifying group, making 2013 a record-breaking year of winning, and landed us into the “Group of Death” here at the World Cup.
That belief has come from none other than Jurgen Klinsmann, the very same coach getting grief from hackneyed American talking heads and sports journalists. Never mind what Klinsmann said about the USMNT’s chances in Brazil, or how realistic it is to say America will win the whole tournament. Klinsmann doesn’t care what anybody thinks but the 23 guys on his roster. And it is clear he has instilled a belief in his players, a belief that was absolutely necessary yesterday when we stole our first group game against Ghana, redeeming previous losses, like the Outlaws that we are. And we will need this belief if we’re to advance past the “Group of Death.”
It’s a belief that is now borderline propaganda, but it’s belief nonetheless. And I’ve found myself susceptible to it. When Graham Zusi loaded up for the corner kick in the 86h minute, and the adorable John Brooks headed home the game-winner, I honestly expected a goal to come. I looked around me, planned my celebration route, making sure I wouldn’t spill over a plate of snacks or drink. I just kind of knew I was about to start dancing around like a mad man. I expected it. It’s an expectation that I’ve developed over the last three years.
And it’s an expectation unlike anything I felt when Landon Donovan scored in extra time in 2010. At that time, we had outplayed Algeria throughout the game, so we expected a goal, but only because we’d been expecting the better team to score at some point (ANY POINT!) for the entirety of the game.
This, this was different. We had played a mediocre game, and that’s being generous. Excluding the first minute of the game, Ghana was clearly the better side. Our most important player, Michael Bradley, was awful. Easily the worst game he’s ever played for the national team. Our second most important player, Jozy Altidore, left the game early with an apparent hamstring injury. Clint Dempsey was playing with a broken nose. And if that wasn’t enough, our one consistent central midfielder, Matt Besler, left the game at halftime with his own hamstring issues.
In the past, we’ve overachieved by playing better than ourselves, and by getting a whole lot of luck (think Columbia and England). Today, we sucked it up, and still managed to beat a good team through our own merits (No, Brooks’ goal was not luck). And I believe that is all thanks to Klinsmann. Jurgen Freaking Klinsmann!
He’s instilled a belief in his players, his fans, and even more importantly — oh wait — those are the only two that matter!
– Is John Brooks the most adorable soccer player in the history of the sport. Watch this video, where he explains his prophetic dream. Between this interview and his utterly endearing goal celebration, it’s impossible not to love this kid. And what’s more: Don’t tell me the German-Americans don’t care.
– Seriously, what was going on with Michael Bradley? I watched the game with some friends relatively unfamiliar with our roster, and I had to spend half the time explaining that Bradley is actually really good. On one hand, winning with him playing that bad is kind of amazing, but on the other hand, we cannot go very far in this tournament without the real Michael Bradley.
– Now what? Both Portugal and the U.S. will come into their match on Sunday depleted. U.S. will be without Altidore, and possibly Besler, while Portugal will certainly be without Pepe (red card) and presumably Striker Hugo Almeida and defender Fábio Coentrão (injuries). Portugal looked pretty bad today, but what more would you expect against Germany? Meanwhile, how will the USMNT recover from such an emotionally (and physically) draining game against Ghana? Will they have a letdown this time like they did in 2010 against — you guessed it — Ghana? Can’t wait to find out on Sunday!
– One more thought: I BELIEVE!