No matter your religious views, the reality is simple — soccer gods exist.
Fates are sealed. Games are won or lost before kickoff. The players are just pawns in a game dictated by higher powers.
But every so often, prophecies are rewritten. Humans have the power to alter the balance of the universe. Something divine occurs, something greater than any god can control.
The power is in one ball — something 22 individuals chase for 90 minutes, attempting to change their fate. The ball is the key — the key to power, to happiness and to glory.
Some have the soccer gods on their side. The Germans are perennial powerhouses with an unlimited flow of talent. The Brazilians are born with a ball at their feet. The Italians mix creative geniuses with walls in defense. Some feel the wrath of the gods every four years, doing everything they can to change their fate and usually failing.
It’s been done, the reversing of fortune. The Spanish team did it in 2010, taking home the trophy for the first time in its history. It only took one of the greatest generations of players the world has ever seen to bring home that elusive cup. Even so, the gods did not like being played, and so crushed Spain’s hopes of repeating just six days after its opening kick.
Other sides aren’t as “fortunate.” On paper, England is nearly a world-class team for every World Cup. Yet it hasn’t even reached a final since it won the whole thing in 1966. There’s no explanation for England’s shortcomings, but every four years without fail, they disappoint.
The Netherlands have been a top team for decades. Even with their total football movement in the 1980s and the bold attackers they boast now, they haven’t been able to burst through. It seemed like 2010 was their year, but the gods’ plan was foiled by the Spanish. Maybe, just maybe, 2014 is their year.
In reality, the gods are cruel.
They don’t like an underdog. They aren’t a fan of the dark horse. In 19 tournaments, only 8 countries have won, and only 12 countries have even made the final. Yet the world’s nations come together every four years to see results that have been decided without their knowing. They come together to watch the beautiful game unfold. A drama, fit for a movie theatre, with plot twist after plot twist.
But now, the biggest plot twist the world has ever seen is unfolding in front of our eyes.
There’s a newcomer to the game. A newcomer that’s been around for decades but never been noticed. They’re not the belle of the ball, nor the handsome prince. The truth is they never will be because they don’t have the pedigree, but times are changing.
The United States is growing from a pure soccer standpoint. People care. The World Cup has been watched by more people than ever before. We are learning the game, seeing its beauty and brutality, realizing it’s not the same game as 5-year-olds play in the park. It’s not boring to watch a 1-0 game. It’s not kick the ball and chase it.
United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has changed things. He’s changed our mentality, our attitude and normal American customs. In his few years in charge, he’s brought in players such as Jermaine Jones, Mix Diskerud, Aron Johansson, Julian Green and “the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln,” John Brooks — all players who weren’t on the U.S. team’s radar four years ago, yet all represented the USA this year.
Klinsmann reached out to these “foreigners,” giving them a chance to represent a country more advanced in soccer than Norway or Iceland, and a place where they’d actually see time on the field, unlike Germany. They all have American roots, whether it be via parents or grandparents, and they all are tremendous talents.
Klinsmann also trashed the way Americans go about sports. He made an incredibly ballsy choice leaving Landon Donovan, probably the best American player ever, off the 2014 World Cup roster.
But his explanation made sense. Landon isn’t the player now that he was in the past. Klinsmann acknowledged everything great that Donovan has done in his career, but simply stated that Donovan wasn’t good enough to help the team. It’s a point that can’t be argued, as Landon has clearly lost a step.
None of it matters, though, as the gods had sealed the Americans’ fate beforehand. They were drawn into the “Group of Death” alongside the best team in the world, Germany, one-man-wrecking-crew Portugal and our archrival, Ghana.
Even Klinsmann told the press they had no shot to win the whole thing. Whether you like that mentality or not, he’s right.
What he didn’t say, though, was that they were sure as hell going to try.
The United States defied the gods once, making it through the “Group of Death,” albeit unconvincingly, but regardless, they were through.
Today, they matched up against a Belgian side that had them beat for talent. The Belgians won all three group stage matches, but were in an easy group and scored all four goals after the 70th minute.
The game kicked off, and a tense 90 minutes quickly passed. The Belgians had dominated. They deserved the win, but the Americans fought hard against their fate.
The entire game came down to one play.
In the 91st minute, a cross to Jermaine Jones at the back post found his head. He redirected it perfectly at the six-yard box to Chris Wondolowski, a poacher who makes a living off of this exact situation. In that split second, every American watching saw our name matched up below Argentina on the bracket. We were ready to cancel all plans this Saturday and watch us take on the living legend that is Lionel Messi. We had done it.
But the gods aren’t so easy to defy.
Wondo’s effort went high and right, and the Algerian referee signaled the end of regulation time. There were 30 minutes more to play. The quarterfinals were brutally ripped from our grasp and never given back.
In the first of two 15-minute overtime sessions, Belgium and the gods scored two goals. Not even Tim Howard, who came up with a miraculous 16 saves this game – a World Cup record – could stop the brilliant finishes of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.
Following the second goal, something amazingly symbolic happened. Something that’s a sign of the future. Something that’s a beacon of hope to all Americans.
Julian Green, the 19-year-old prodigy, entered the game. With his first touch, he ran into a ball floated through by Michael Bradley, swung his leg around and sent the ball passed Thibaut Courtois into the net.
I believe that we will win a World Cup someday, but that day is not in 2014. Belgium took us down, 2-1, but there is so much hope that should shine through into the hearts of Americans. Green is just the beginning. Is he going to single-handedly win us a World Cup? Hell no. But he is proof — proof that our team is growing. We have youth. We have talent. We have faith in a young group of players that will represent us in 2018. We believe that we will win, and any group of American fans will be quick to tell you that.
Even as I wrote this, I had a burst of deja vu. We were meant to be upset today. We were meant to be crushed after a United States defeat. We are meant to come back stronger than ever. The soccer gods are powerful, but they don’t kick the ball.