I'm going to go ahead and assume that you've seen the wonderful video tribute to the USMNT's World Cup run entitled "Dying Bravely." If you haven't, stop what you're doing and watch it now. It's worth every second of its eleven minute run time. The video above is part 2 - the link goes to the full version.
The mere existence of that marvelous combination of music and video, the type of thing that American fans have become adept at in the YouTube age, makes me wonder how much of our attachment to our Yanks is a matter of "lovable loser" syndrome.
I don't mean that the USA is always destined to lose, as say, the Cubs are, just that we're a maturing soccer nation that relies as much on grit and determination as we do on skill and talent. Grit and determination will only get you so far, of course, and so our team inevitably comes up short in the end. We lose, but we lose with a feeling of quiet satisfaction about the effort we gave echoing out of the tournament. We don't have too many achievements to hold onto, so even a valiant fight that ultimately ends with us "dying bravely" is something to celebrate.
I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that there's no English equivalent to "Dying Bravely." England's World Cup, despite being equally as long as the Americans', is viewed as a disaster. That team was a bunch of over-indulged footballers who failed to live up to their promise because they just didn't care enough, at least in the minds of the fans and media, and those type of teams aren't worthy of epic video tributes set to amazingly evocative music. Where the English sense of entitlement and expectation soured their fans' enjoyment of the tournament, the metered expectations placed on the Americans allowed us to take positives out of a run that ended with a heaping helping of disappointment. Angry in the moment, we moved on to things like "Dying Bravely" and odd odes to the team that display our funny sense of bullish hope balanced against rooting for a group of players that, let's be honest, must maximize their abilities every time out to be as good as we think they should be.
Perspective is everything. Our national team exists in an odd limbo where the fans both feel they underachieve and are appreciative of the achievements they do manage, all at the same time. We're not the minnow celebrating a single World Cup match win or holding parades because the team got out of the group; but neither are we the whale whose players and coaches should be raked over the coals for failing to reach the quarter or semifinals.
Which makes me wonder if we'll be seeing videos like "Dying Bravely" in twenty years should the USMNT do "just okay" in the 2030 World Cup. Where will we be then, forty years after the return of the nation to soccer relevance? Will fans demand so much that a valiant effort won't be enough to inspire us to honor the team as the producer of the above video did? Will Americans drop the "lovable" part of the label and just become "losers" should they make the exact same run they did at this World Cup?
Because the next step in the evolution of our international aspirations will inevitably make a 2010-like run more and more distasteful. It will become more difficult to pull positives out of an effort that ends because of yet another goal conceded early, ghastly defensive breakdown, or because our strikers just can't find the net. As the program progresses, "trying hard" just won't be enough anymore. We'll end up jaded and bitter when expectations go unmet, and no amount of time will ease the angst enough to provide an appreciative perspective. Something like "Dying Bravely" won't be received with open arms and spread across the community like the joy it is, but cynically rejected as fan boy nonsense.
Maybe it won't happen, but I wouldn't bet against it.
For now, let's just be glad that even going out the way we did can still lead to breathtaking works like "Dying Bravely."
I think I'll go watch it again.