The United States soccer team lost today, the world already knows. The game, against Germany, was billed as–at the very least–a must-draw for the Yanks to advance in the World Cup tournament to the next round of competition. The actual outcome, a rational person would have thought, was a total bummer for the Red, White and Blue.
But, nooo, at least not in the world of international soccer. In that world, it seems, to lose under certain circumstances means to get to play another day.
This, I submit, is contrary to nature for Americans, myself included. Granted, I’ve never actually played the game (I did bloody my daughter’s nose some years ago during a backyard kick-the-ball exchange). Despite the obvious flaw the game has of not allowing players to use their full panoply of physical tools (i.e. their hands!) I have tried over the years to warm to the sport as a spectator, usually during trips abroad. I admit, it has been a tough slough, trying to not have my impatience show through all the lethargic mid-field back and forth, with little scoring, questionable refereeing, and fungible time keeping.
This year, I’ve tried again. In addition to following the progress of the US team, I’ve cheered for Italy against the Brits, tried to stay engaged during other games, and monitored the daily news reports on the World Cup tournament.
Today’s outcome, however, convinces me that soccer is simply not in the DNA of American sports. I listened to the US-Germany game on the radio (no television at my rural home), experiencing the loss as i would any other.
But, wait! No, it was not really a loss, at least not in the way of any other sport I have known. As the announcers prattled on about “the irony” of it all, I started wondering about comparisons to any other tournament. MLB? NBA? NHL? NCAA? No, no, no and no! You lose your head-to-head matchup, and it’s wait until next year, folks. And this goes beyond sports: politics, business, spelling bees, whatever; there are no resets.
There is, after all, something thrilling about the win or go home system, something that gives finite shape, meaning and urgency to each game in a tournament or playoff. Take that away, at least in terms of American sports, and what remains is a far less than satisfying reality. Should I now even care that the US team is playing, since they’ve lost what was supposed to be a key game and, to me, don’t actually deserve to be playing on? Any win from here on is tainted; a loss simply confirms what is already obvious.