by Jake Montgomery
It means everything. Simple as that. If you care about the U.S. Men’s National team, if you care about this beautiful country,with its many triumphs and recurrent problems, if you care about our dignity and our ability to play with the world rather than police it, if you care about the future of the most democratic, least elitist sport in the world in our increasingly unequal society, then this match matters. At 6 PM EST our boys will take on the Black Stars of Ghana, a team that has knocked us out of the last two World Cups. Although they won’t have the chance to officially knock us out of this year’s tournament, this match is a must-win for both teams as two soccer giants in Germany and Portugal loom in group play.
For people who haven’t been following this team or this sport, today’s game is massive and if you ever want to give soccer and the World Cup a try, now is the time to do it. Go to a bar or some kind of viewing area and watch your countrymen play on the world’s greatest athletic stage in front of millions of people around the world. Get lost in the yelling and chants, the excitement and electric buzz that will accompany any group of Americans watching the match together. Think about how this match embodies our country portraying itself to the world in a non-political, non-militaristic way, and people are watching. Less people around the world care about international basketball or baseball. Less people care about the olympics. The World Cup is the worldwide tournament.
Historically, we have been pretty bad at soccer, not making much of a splash, and never winning the whole thing. This year, with a new and wise German coach (who speaks perfect English, mind you), we seem ready to make the next push. The buzz around this team, the feelings of excitement and hope that have been growing due to strong pre-tournament performances, have only been dampened by the strength of the teams we must play in the first round. Ours is known as the Group of Death. Ghana, Portugal, and especially Germany are all highly skilled opponents full of class and players who star for the best soccer teams in Europe. Most of our team plays in our domestic league, the MLS, and this is an opportunity to show the world that our league is not a joke. It is an opportunity to show that we don’t just play “our” sports like baseball, basketball, and football. We also play the world’s sport, soccer or fútball, and we can play it well. It goes back to killing the notion that we are elitist, that we look down on the rest of the world with that attitude that we’ll just stick to our games.
No, we also play soccer, the sport where all you need to play is a ball and a relatively flat piece of ground. To repeat what my friend Chris has already said in his beautifully chronicled personal account of what soccer means to him, the ball can be a t-shirt wrapped tightly around itself, a grapefruit, compressed newspaper, or fermented mud. The ground can be a dusty plain, a patch of grass, a blacktop, a basketball court, street pavement, beach sand, or the sidewalk. If you want to play a real match and keep score, four hoodies, sneakers, sticks, caps, or bags can be used as goal posts. The game can be played by anyone anywhere, a rarity in the realm of sports which usually require some kind of special equipment or court or rink.
So this afternoon, give soccer a chance. Give the U.S. Men’s National Team a chance. And support our country playing the world’s only universal game. We don’t need to hold onto the sports we created and the sports we are the best at. Let’s go out and beat other countries at the sport they’re supposed to own. Countries like Portugal, Germany, and Ghana don’t have a monopoly on democratic equality in sports. We can play that game too. Remember, we need a win today. Pundits may talk about getting a result–which means a win or a tie–but if we are to have a chance at glory in this tournament, we all but need to beat Ghana and to beat them decisively. I genuinely believe that we can do it. Do you? Watch the match, have fun with it, and God bless America.
I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!