U.S. team has made a splash

Jun. 27, 2014 @ 11:55 AM

When the World Cup group stage draw was announced in December, a friend and I texted and agreed that if the United States got four points out of its opening games against Ghana and Portugal, they’d have a pretty solid chance of going through.

But even that was in doubt. Ghana had the USA’s number the last two World Cups, and Portugal boasts the world’s best player and some solid running-mates.

So here we sit on June 27, going into the round of 16, and the United States has gone through the so-called “Group of Death,” despite losing to Germany 1-0 Thursday. The USA’s advance was partly thanks to the world’s best player, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored the game-winning goal in his team’s fruitless 2-1 win over Ghana that ended seconds after the United States wrapped up its loss to Group G winners Germany.

So we’re through. We’re moving on. It wasn’t pretty. But you all probably know that by now.

That’s the thing about America this summer. When unheralded defender John Brooks headed home the game-winner in the 86th minute against Ghana on June 16, Wikipedia was describing Brooks as “…a German-American footballer. He is the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln.”

People know. In this social media age, news of the #USMNT spread quickly every day, with ESPN reporting constantly from Brazil about forward Jozy Altidore’s injury status and the USA’s chances in one of the toughest groups in this edition of the World Cup, the world’s greatest sports tournament outside of the Olympics. Brooks joined a list of American heroes such as Mike Eruzione and Gabby Douglas, names you wouldn’t know unless they proved themselves on the world stage.

Heck, there’s been a lot more talk in American media about Uruguay star Luis Suarez’s bite and ensuing suspension the last couple days than I ever thought possible. Raise your hand if you knew who Luis Suarez — one of the best strikers in the world, by the way — was before this month.

Full transparency: I’m a big fan of the Premier League, the top professional soccer league in England, where a lot of World Cup stars play, and manage to keep up with some of the other leagues as well. I’ve acquired a fair bit of knowledge about world soccer in this past year, boosted when

see Horner/page B4

I spent last summer on a mission trip on the campus of the University of Johannesburg in football-crazy South Africa. I knew what Jurgen Klinnsman’s squad was against. But they persevered and now, they’ve advanced.

You’ll probably read a lot about the un-American way the squad made it this far: losing a game and needing that winner from the Ronaldo guy, the same player who sank American hopes of advancing a beat with a beautiful cross four days before in the USA’s last-minute loss.

But I’ll choose to look on the brighter side in spite of all the negativity by which I’m surrounded. Even three months ago, I don’t think I would have seen Twitter lit up the way it was these last couple of weeks, with so many tweets with the hashtag “#1N1T” (One Nation, One Team) or “#IBelieve,” short for the chant “I Believe That We Will Win.”

It’s exciting. Soccer as a sport has long been overshadowed by football, basketball, baseball, even hockey in this country. I’m glad it’s getting this attention because it’s a beautiful game. It’s the beautiful game.

Even more exciting, I’m glad that my country has represented itself well thus far. Even if we lose in the round of 16, I’m proud to be an American. I know where we sit in the soccer world stage. We’re the underdogs. But we’ve made a splash. And while advancing to win the World Cup is quite unlikely (sorry, just being real here), the U.S. has experienced what this sport is all about.

And we’ve got a lot more people saying, “I believe.” And that’s always a good thing.