Just prior to the World Cup, Time magazine ran an opinion piece titled “How Soccer Is Destroying American Exceptionalism.” Andres Martinez wrote, “It’s hard to exaggerate how much soccer’s incursion into American life threatens to erode American exceptionalism, not to mention our traditional geographic illiteracy. American kids now routinely wear the jerseys of teams in places like Barcelona and Munich, much like their counterparts in the rest of the world.”
American Exceptionalism isn’t about t-shirts or pop culture. It is also not about individual superiority. This has relevance to today’s contest against Belgium at the World Cup. Our players aren’t exceptional. Our team may be.
The U.S. men’s team plays Belgium in its first game of the knockout phase at the World Cup at 4 p.m. Eastern. Belgium has a very talented group with most of its players scattered throughout the top European leagues. It is quite amazing that a country the size of Los Angeles can produce so much quality individual talent. The U.S. is not going to beat them on individual talent. However, Belgium is young, inexperienced, and more a collection of stars than a team.
Jürgen Klinsmann’s men have really come together as a team, playing a passionate brand of football. Now is the time to make a statement on world stage–not destroying American Exceptionalism but rather showcasing it. To put it quite simply, the Americans must play exceptionally to beat Belgium.
The Belgium squad plays an attacking game and just like the last time these two teams played, when six goals were scored, this should also prove to be a high scoring game. There are five keys for U.S. victory.
Jozy, your team needs you
Jürgen Klinsmann should start Jozy Altidore. If not, Klinsmann needs to get him in the game for meaningful time. He is the only person that can play that target position well and the U.S. will need to score goals against this Belgium team. There is nothing to save yourself for. If the U.S. loses, the next game will be in 4 years–plenty of time to heal.
Take the lead
The U.S. can’t sit back and let the Belgium team get confidence and control the ball. The U.S. must take advantage of their youth and the injured Belgium defense.
Challenge your teammates
Someone needs to slap Michael Bradley across the head and tell him to start playing like Michael Bradley.
Do your job and trust your teammates
It will be hot and humid. This will make it harder both physically and mentally. Each player must do his job and not make mistakes on defense. They did a great job of this against Germany–especially Omar Gonzalez who I expect to stay in the line-up for Geoff Cameron.
Don’t waste opportunities
I don’t think one goal will win it for the U.S. against the talented Belgium team. Based on the six knockout games already played, the game tomorrow should be more physical with lots of fouls. The U.S. can’t give up a penalty kick and must take advantage of its size and athleticism on set pieces.
If the Americans can do all this, they will advance–and so will the prestige of soccer in America and the prestige of the American soccer team around the world.
So after today when some kid walks into their local soccer store in Buenos Aires or Boston, Munich or Miami and buys a number 8 USA jersey it may be because he thinks Clint Dempsey is pretty cool or because he realizes America is an exceptional country. More likely, the kid will buy the shirt because Clint Dempsey plays on an exceptional American team.