The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

World Cup

June 27, 2014

U.S. Soccer has entered new era

Thursday’s match with Germany was not the biggest moment in United States soccer history. It is the new expectation.

For the second time in as many World Cups, the Americans have advanced to the knockout stage of the tournament. It’s the first time in history they’ve done that.

But it’s not just that the United States advanced, but how they did it — by showing they can compete with the world’s best.

No, the Stars and Stripes did not advance to the next round of the World Cup by losing to Germany. They advanced by going 1-1-1 in their group, collecting four points and showing that they can hang with anybody.

Non-soccer loving American sports fans had a little bit of fun on social media Thursday, stating that the United States backed its way into the next round. That statement is full of ignorance. It’s the luck of the draw that left the Yanks matched up with Germany in the final group match. If the schedule had been reversed, and the U.S. had lost to Germany, drew Portugal and beaten Ghana, no one would consider it advancing by losing.

It’s the nature of the sport.

But those non-soccer loving American sports fans will never grasp it. They’re the same people who will claim that people are only tuning in to the World Cup because of patriotism, but ignore the poor ratings of the World Baseball Classic. There is a hatred for soccer by some, and that’s OK. But hating the game because it’s not like another game is asinine. It’s like saying you don’t like Wu-Tang Clan because they don’t sound like Johnny Cash. They’re not supposed to.

Those Americans who understand, want to understand or just have unabashed patriotism every four years, embrace this moment. Celebrate this moment. But more importantly, expect this type of performance from the United States moving forward. And demand more.

The United States held Germany — the No. 2 ranked team in the world — to only one goal. Even in the loss, the U.S. never looked like it didn’t belonged on the same pitch with the Germans. In fact, at times, the Americans looked just as good.

This is the same Germany team that defeated England, Argentina and Uruguay — three highly competitive soccer countries — on the way to a third place finish in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, defeating England 4-1, Argentina 4-0 and Uruguay 3-2. The same Germany squad that defeated FIFA No. 4 ranked Portugal 4-0 and drew Ghana 2-2.

Yes, the United States lost, but by a narrow margin on an unstoppable goal from Thomas Mueller. That’s soccer.

But the United States hung with Germany, getting an incredible performance in goal from Tim Howard and great defensive stops from Omar Gonzalez — seeing his first start of the tournament — and Kyle Beckerman. Even Michael Bradley put on a solid performance.

 The Americans deserve credit for holding Germany to one goal and advancing — but now there is a precedent. This is the new benchmark for the U.S. men’s soccer team. Its goal is to find the same success the U.S. women’s team has found.

Prior to 2002, the United States had very little success in the World Cup — besides finishing third in the inaugural cup in 1930. But something happened in 2002, when the United States eliminated rival Mexico in the knockout stage, before advancing to the quarterfinals where they were defeated by Germany.

The United States had an expectation to compete on the global stage.

Now there is an expectation to be among the world’s best.

The current 23-man U.S. roster is made up of 16 players who would have been high school age or younger when the U.S. defeated Mexico 12 years ago — four of them were under the age of 10. Those are 16 players, many who will still be around in 2018 when the World Cup is held in Russia, grew up believing that the U.S. can achieve soccer greatness.

They grew up following the footsteps of Landon Donovan, Brian McBride, Alexi Lalas, Pail Caligiuri, Joe Gaetjens and Bert Patenaude.

If the goal is to win the World Cup, the U.S. moved one step closer. No, not this cup, but in the future.

There is a whole new generation of soccer players in the U.S. who are watching Howard, Bradley and Clint Dempsey now in the way those 16 players watched the group before them. They see what is expected of them, and in the true American spirit, they’ll exceed it.

They’re the kind of players who have grown up with soccer — whether U.S., MLS or EPL — available to watch with the click of a remote. The kind who are playing in our YMCA, Upward and youth travel leagues, who have only known the U.S. to compete against the Germanys, Spains, and Italys of the world.

 They’re the generation who know the names Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Dempsey in the same way my generation knew Michael Jordan, Ken Griffey Jr. and Tiger Woods; the same way my parents’ generation knew Terry Bradshaw, Pete Rose and Muhammed Ali.

And hopefully, sometime in their lives, they’ll be part of the U.S. ascending even closer to being the world’s best.

Embrace it. Expect it. Demand it.

— E-mail: jrollins And follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.

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