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First They Ignore You

I was en route home from South Africa yesterday—and still haven’t made it to D.C.; I’m sipping a Jamba Juice and typing in the lovely JetBlue terminal at JFK—so I still haven’t seen all 120 minutes of USA-Ghana. The last 30, however, I did catch during a short layover in Dubai. I was drained, the U.S. seemed drained. Maybe it was sitting in a quiet airport lounge, listening to play by play in Arabic, with just a couple of American fans in a small group around a flat screen. But there was a sense of inevitability to the proceedings, especially after Asamoah Gyan’s beautiful if preventable run, settle and shot over a falling Tim Howard’s shoulder.

With time to kill here, I headed over to Big Soccer to see how the USMNT partisans are handling the loss. There’s a “Clark is garbage” thread, and, while the title is not one that a respectable journalist such as I might have chosen, given what I’ve read about Ricardo Clark’s giveaway that led directly to the first Ghana goal, and what we all saw in the England game, his presence on the field was curious to say the least. Which as a thought leads nicely into a subject broached by multiple threads: Should Bob Bradley be fired. (Consensus: Yes. Four years is long enough for a national-team coach, and starting Clark and Robbie Findley yesterday showed terrible big-game judgment.) Which of course led to the inevitable speculation on who will replace Bradley, which led directly to Jurgen Klinsmann, who just happened to be on ESPN this morning going on about the problems facing U.S. soccer. (Mainly that we’re the only country in the world where kids pay to play; elsewhere, as Mike Sokolove describes in his excellent recent New York Times Magazine story, clubs run youth academies supported by transfer fees.) Klinsmann didn’t get the 2010 cycle job mostly because of disagreements with the U.S. federation over power and responsibility. None of his fellow ESPN chatterers asked him, but it sounds like Klinsi might be interested in the job again.

But the best thread of all, the one that combines everything lovable about soccer in the U.S. right now is the one titled “Get Ready for the Golden Age.” It has it all. Can-do optimism (“I honestly believe we will have a legitimate chance to win the World Cup in 2014.”), an inflated sense of the what was lost (“We had an amazing opportunity with THIS world cup.”), an overestimation of the current talent (“Our golden age ends when Donovan retires.”) and some rational thought (“It may take another four or five cycles before we're considered by the world to consistently make it to the knockout round.”)

While I agree with Frank, I also think we’ll look back on this World Cup as the moment when soccer in the U.S. made a nice run down the wing in both playing style (physically tough; able to play possession soccer, at least in the midfield; mentally very strong— Germany-lite), results (advancing out of group play, the comebacks) and cultural impact (enormous TV ratings, crowded bars, serious mainstream media coverage). The Big Soccer crowd is already pumping out Top 100 lists of prospects, and the debate on who should fill what roles has begun in earnest, as I imagine it has in France and Italy and England. The optimists think the pieces are already in place, the realists see the need to produce multiple top players at Champions League clubs. More growth and more changes are inevitable. 

A poster named “Irishman” puts it nicely: “The USA has the extraordinary luck to be both Germanic and Hispanic, black and white and brown, African and European and Asian, all in one driven national character.” Progress is uncertain for every national side, but it’s highly likely for the U.S. Irishman quoted Gandhi: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” To which JustinO replied: “First they ignore you (to 1989). Then they laugh at you (1990-2001). Then they fight you (2002-present). Then you win (???). Does that look about right?” Yes, it does.