It's not America's Cup
I am a Rebel with a Rebellion. I am an American Outlaw.
None of these are what you think that they are.
I am a diehard football fan.
That is not what you think it is either.
This is not about American football. This is not about me breaking the law. This is most certainly not about me leading a group of people into a town and creating a rebellion of anything.
This is about what North Americans call soccer, and the rest of the world calls football. It also is about the World Cup, but I cannot talk the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup without talking about football as a whole, especially its position in North America. I try valiantly, but always fail.
I have been a fan of football for almost my entire life. For nearly two decades, I have been a fan of the New England Revolution. In my adult years, I joined the Rebellion, a supporter group for the team. For almost as many years, I've been a fan of West Ham United, and am a proud Hammer who can often be seen on social media on game day posting COYI! (Come on you irons!). In 2008, I became an American Outlaw with the Boston, Mass. chapter of The American Outlaws, a supporter group founded in 2006 for the USA Mens National Team.
I do not miss games. I cannot watch a game on DVR. I have to be a part of the game, somehow, while it is live. If I am at work, at the gym, on the road, teaching one of my fitness classes, I stalk social media when I can to stay updated. Thankfully, my husband is as dedicated a fan of the sport as I am. I drive him insane with text messages asking for updates.
As much of a diehard USA fan as I am, I did not believe that we could win.
Why, you ask?
For a lack of better breakdown, it is like comparing a t-ball game (USA) to a Major League Baseball (the rest of the world) game here.
It is something that any USA football fan realizes, but never wants to admit. We are just mediocre at the sport. It is not that we do not want the USA to win, it is just that we know a lot needs to happen in order for us to even succeed beyond the Round of 16 when we can actually get there.
As much as we love and support it by being those kind of die-hard fans, the problem lies in the bigger picture, beyond us, and with everyone else.
Our country is so far behind the eight-ball on football that it is borderline ridiculous. It is like all of those countries who are now getting Lost on their televisions, years after the series finale aired here.
North America is the only place that calls it soccer. Regardless of the fact that football is a game played with a ball and feet, whereas American Football is played with hands, pads and helmets.
The position of the institution of football in this country is clear as day when you watch any of the World Cup games. It exists, but only under that super powered magnifying glass you will need to be able to see it. It is like a cult indie movie. Those fans of it here are dedicated and loyal to the end, but it is a small group.
"But, there are so many articles out there outlining how much the sport has grown." Or, "What about all of the talk about how full those football stadiums are now?", and "There's a lot of people watching now."
No, there really is not.
Let me paint a picture. We will use the British Premier League and Major League Soccer as the colors on the canvas. If you are fortunate enough to physically attend a Premier League game, even if it is bottom of the pack Sunderland versus another bottom of the pack team like Hull City, it certainly is an entirely new experience. It makes American football look small, and like it can be easily swept aside in favor of going for an evening stroll instead of watching a game. You will DVR it and watch it later. And if it can do that to American football, can you imagine how it totally tromps MLS?
Arsenal Stadium, the stadium that is home to my husband's beloved Gunners, seats 73,000 people. Compare that to PPL Park where Philadelphia Union plays, which seats only 18,000 people. Sure, it looks like there is a lot of people at PPL Park, but after seeing Boelyn Grounds where the Hammers play, you realize, it actually is not.
Watching a Premiere League football match, those massive stadiums are full, sold out. Fans all over are crammed into pubs so that there is barely even standing room. Packed in like sardines to watch their match. If it is a derby match, all life ceases to move and all eyes are focused on the match.
A MLS match? Even a "rivalry" match? Dotted empty seats, a cluster of a dozen fans at a local bar watching the game on the television if they are lucky enough to have a local bar which is playing the game.
Examples that more clearly show the smaller numbers? Gillette Stadium where the New England Revolution play and CenturyLink Field where the Seattle Sounders play. Both are American football stadiums that can seat more than 60,000 people. During American football season, they are packed for the Seahawks and the Patriots. For a Revolution or Sounders game? You are lucky if you can get one side of the bottom bowl filled.
Change the way this country handles and sees football and you will change its future, forever. All of us dedicated fans can pretty much guarantee it.
Yes, the last USA game against Belgium was more watched than the first game of the World Series, but that doesn't mean that suddenly football is going to become the booming, fan-attracting sport that it is everywhere else in the world. This is called the World Cup effect. It happens every four years. A sudden surge in interest, then it dies out within a year. Yes, some new fans hold on, but sadly, the majority do not.
Make this country a draw for the sport and we will successfully keep the good players in MLS. The good players do not stay here. They go to European, South American or even African football. They play on teams in the Middle East or in Asia. Why? There are highly-skilled players on the field with them when they play with these clubs. They are playing with their equals. It helps them hone their skill. Not to mention they are treated better and make far more money than they would here.
There is a reason football fans all over the world joke about how bad of a player so-and-so from Manchester City must be to have gotten put out on loan for Real Salt Lake. They see a players transfer from British Premier League, Spanish League, Italian League, etc... as a sign that that particular player is not good enough. And the same is said for the opposite. For a MLS player to be pulled into European League or elsewhere, it speaks volumes of the talent in that player.
Did we really think that the Sounders would be able to hold on to DeAndre Yedlin after his stellar display in the Cup games? No. He is already heading to Roma once his contract is finished out next year. He will be out of MLS as early as January 2015.
The same goes for Diego Fagundez. The New England Revolution groomed youngster and key player. I would love to see him stay with my team, but, realistically, I know he is going to bounce the second the moment strikes him. I know several European teams have their eyes on him. Given that he is only 18 and in last season alone (while he was still in high school, mind you), he scored 13 goals? Rightfully, he deserves to be among equally-skilled peers.
And, sure, Clint Dempsey returned to MLS after being abroad, but even he admits that the reason he came back is because he wanted his children to be raised where he was.
By getting the good players to stay, it helps the average players that make up the MLS. The average players will have to work harder for field time. They will no longer be complacent with their level of play, because odds are, that level of play will keep them from that starting position they used to have. They will push themselves to be better. Therefore, as an entirety, the leagues talent level will rise.
Draw better coaches. Most coaches are those average MLS players who have retired from the game and taken up manager positions with teams, no offense to Jay Heaps. Some are old, tired British League managers who just do not have gumption in them anymore and take the back seat coaching position.
The USA have only once made it to the quarterfinal round of the World Cup, and that was in 2002. Before then and since then, it has been the group or Round of 16 that swallows the team alive. This year, by the skin of their teeth, it made it out of what had been dubbed The Group of Death and into the Round of 16.
It should not have been that hard. Yes, we got retribution against Ghana, what was viewed as our most important game of the series. The Portugal game was complete garbage. That last goal, while yes, the majority of the failure lies heavily on Michael Bradley's shoulders, the rear side defense can equally be to blame. Replay after replay of that last goal shows that the defense on that back half of the pitch, for lack of a better descriptive word, sucked.
If Bradley had stayed awake for those last seconds, if defense had not just instantly assumed they had it in the bag, for the first time in the history of USA being in the World Cup, they would have instantly moved to the Round of 16. That last game against Germany would have just been practice.
Take a page from the Chelsea Football Club. When they are up, they park a bus. They are well known for it, and it is common to see teams, especially during the World Cup, follow suit of the practice. Anyone who watched that Netherlands and Costa Rica game got to see, during that first half, a prime example on what exactly parking a bus on the pitch looks like. Netherlands did not do it to stay up in score, they did it to wear Costa Rica down and keep their players less worked over for their next match.
It's not Jorgen Klinnsman's fault like many articles out there claim. There were a lot of moments in the USMNT this year where the players were only half-heartedly attempting to play. Bradley is a strong player, while he will never be like Dempsey, Tim Howard and other USA players who get snatched up by the big football teams overseas, he is by the standards of play here, good. Yet, he was playing less than good during the Cup. Same with Fabian Johnson.
We cannot say we lost because of the fact that Jozy Altidore was out after 20 minutes into the first game. We had Dempsey, who proved again just how great he is by playing with a broken nose. We had DaMarcus Beasely. Omar Gonzales. Kyle Beckerman. And remember, we had John Brooks' goal at the tail end of that same game Altador had to leave?
USA, unlike Germany, and even Belgium, play stellar as a team. While there are a lot of good individual talents on the team, they are great as a working unit. Belgium and Germany are individually talented and successful thoughout. They work as a unit, but sometimes struggle as a unit, and that is where their losses can be tied to. With the USMNT, teamwork is the one of the things that it had on its side to help propel them as far as they were able to make it this year. But it was not and never will be enough. It is only one piece of the pie.
So now that that is all out of the way, who is going to win?
Once USA was out, I was able to comfortably cheer on Netherlands and Germany. Two teams that had realistic possibilities to make it to the final. But what about precious favorite Brazil? They had never lost a game on home turf in more than 60 games.
Not even they would make it. I knew that from the start. How? Thiago Silva is a hot head. I figured pretty quickly that he was going to accrue his yellow cards like a typical hot-headed player and miss out on a key game. Naymar da Silva Santos Jr. is a good player, but you could see that the team relied on him too much (much like Portugal was seen doing with Cristiano Ronaldo). When he went out with a broken back, that pretty much signed the "no-deal" for Brazil.
How on Earth did Germany play the game they played that semifinal match? Simple. Germany has always had a team stocked with skilled players. Not just that, but if one of those skilled players had to come off of the field, Germany can go on without missing a beat. Brazil on the other hand, take away Naymar, and you have taken away the team. And they showed that clearly in their poor play in their last match. Holes all over the pitch, defense was lacking. Germany saw where they could easily thread through, and played on it. Five goals in less than 30 minutes of play. It was a game that no one saw coming, but at the same time, it was not unexpected.
Then Brazil continued to farther fall apart in the third-place match against Netherlands. Not only did ot break its win streak on home turf with the Germany game, it destroyed it with the third-place game.
From the start, the Argentina and Netherlands game was going to be the one to watch. Argentina, another team, like Brazil and Portugal, relied heavily on one player the entire tournament. A lot questioned if it would be enough. I knew that it would all boil down to penalties. Which I did not want. Why? Wesley Sneijder for one. And, Jasper Cillessen for two. Sneijder is the wild card. Everyone who watches a Netherlands game questions how he made it to not only the Cup team, but to be starter. He cannot corner or free kick for the life of him. And he cannot hit a penalty shot. Cillessen is that goal keeper you put in at the end of a match, and that is a match like the Germany versus Brazil match, and you are Germany. You do it out of the kindness of your heart, because you do not want to totally slaughter the other team. You do not let a goalkeeper like Cillessen take penalty shots.
Unfortunately for Netherlands, it was subbed out and Tim Krul could not come in, leaving them with Cillessen. After 120 minutes of sloppy play and poor performance (thanks a lot, Van Persie), having it come down to penalties was the seal of death for Netherlands. Proof of just how truthful that was is the Costa Rica game. In penalty shots, Krul was brought in to replace Cillessen and great saves were made.
It was starting to look like a penalty final as well. After more than 110 minutes on the pitch, with no score, fans cringed. No one wants a penalty shot final. Argentina and Germany have squared off more times than either team probably cares to count, and more often than not, Germany walked away victor. Anyone watching that game could easily admit, penalty shots or not, Germany was walking out champions.
Argentina leaned too heavily on Messi, and Messi leaned too heavily on himself. He was fast, but Mats Hummels did an excellent job at staying at his side down the pitch. Despite Argentina's attempts at stopping the machine known as Bastian Schweinsteiger, they did not succeed. Even after his face was gashed open, no foul given. Argentina played tight defense, but drove too hard, too much the first half, and the result was about a dozen rushed attempts at scoring. While Germany just kind of poked the ball around like children on the school playground.
In the end, it was Andre Schurrle's pass off to Mario Goetze that gave Germany its win, and kept fans happy that penalties were avoided.
There is controversy of course. Like with all big tournament games, there always is. Did Lionel Messi deserve that ball? Many, including the president of FIFA (and me) think not. There were many other players of the tournament that deserved it, and considering he is said it means nothing to him, which is quite shocking given how humble Messi is known for being, take it away and give it to someone more deserving and appreciative of it.
While Manuel Neuer did an excellent job of goalkeeping, I am pretty sure that I am not the only one shocked that after that record-setting goal saving, Howard was not the one to receive the glove.
It was an amazing Cup experience this year. The games were intense, and I think a record was set for extra-time games and games that were forced into penalty shots. Thanks to Luis "The Horse" Suarez, the games got a little extra attention. Howard's insane, record-breaking saves during the Belgium match sparked further interest.