We live in the ultimate capitalist country. A country that has made us believe that ambition can propel even the biggest long shot to the pinnacle of success. We ooze the belief that “anything is possible”, and are living proof that “we shall overcome”. Self-belief and ambition that borders on arrogance. After visiting countries and cultures around the globe, you begin to realize that this an innately American quality. Other countries are passionate, other countries possess work ethic, but no other country promotes the idea that passion + work ethic will generate opportunity. No other country breeds their people to believe that what they dream, they can achieve. I love this about the country I call home. However, our sense of ambition has begun to overstep the reality of the question, “what is progress?”.
Progress used to mean simply having your children be the first generation to attend college. Progress used to mean moving from lower class to middle class, in a generation, through hard work. But that’s not good enough anymore. We’ve become a society who’s ambitions often don’t allow for staged progress. We expect to go from high school straight to the pros; not only that, we expect to be a star immediately. We believe because Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg became gazillionaires without finishing college, that we are all entitled to such opportunity and success. We are no longer interested in staged progress, because we are no longer satisfied with small victories. “If I can’t make millions, and right away, then fuck it, I’ve failed.” We are an aspirational society that counts only wins, and sees only gold. However, that’s not what this country was built on. This country was built on the hard work, blood, sweat and tears necessary to achieve a small momentum in the right direction. The American Dream was never about millions, but about progress. This concept of progress, of moving forward step by step, is why today’s World Cup match vs Belgium is so important.
‘Merica has been swept up, again, by the patriotic spirit that comes in the form of the US Men’s National Soccer Team. Every 4 years the passion towards this team and this sport grows exponentially. It’s not longer weird to love soccer or the World Cup in the states; instead it’s become actually un-American not to root for our country. Unfortunately, our team, while drastically improved over the past 20 years, is not yet amongst the world elite. This means that at some point during the tournament, every time, we are left with the ultimate disappointment of being knocked out. It becomes such a gut punch to the american soccer following, because at the end of the day, we want success and we expect it now. However, that’s not how things work in real life. It takes time, and progress and baby steps (and failures) before success can be achieved. This is especially true in a sport whereby the rest of the world dedicates all it’s athletic talent, we dedicate only the smallest percentage towards. When Klinsmann took over the US Soccer Program, 4 years ago, he boldly stated that the process of evolution would be slow, methodical, but also one wrought with challenges. He warned us that we would stumble before we succeeded. Even though no one wanted to hear that, he was not wrong. However, we are progressing.
Two world cups ago we got knocked out in the group stage. In South Africa we lost a nail biter in the round of 16 to Ghana. This year we made it out of the “Group of Death”. While that was a difficult task, it would not have been progress if we hadn’t. Not to mention the fact that during our match against Portugal, even when a draw felt like a loss, we played the most prolific attacking football this country has ever displayed. We are getting better and at a much faster pace than even I ever expected. This is why it is so important for the US to win today vs. Belgium. We need to progress both in achievement and technical ability. To advance to the quarterfinals of this World Cup, coming out of the toughest group, would not just be progress, it would be success. Don’t get me wrong, I still hold out hope for the “Miracle” like run to a gold medal at this World Cup. However, success/failure should not be judged on World Cup supremacy but rather simply against the definition of progress. That is what the American Spirit is built on.
The USMNT must win today to prove to themselves, to prove to the US, to prove to the rest of the world that we are coming. We aren’t afraid of the time it might take, and we aren’t discouraged by the challenges and work that it will take to reach our goal. We will get better every day. We will get knocked down, get back up if only to get knocked down again. However, our spirit will not be broken and our perseverance will not wain. A win today will declare to the world that we are a real threat; not because of who we are today, but because of who we are becoming and what we are willing to do to achieve our goals.
So while everyone can complain about wanting it all right away and if you don’t win it all then you’ve failed, I on the other hand measure success on progression. Because all or nothing will fail more often than not. However, constant progression, no matter how slow, will always be met with success. So as you chant “I believe that we will win”, remember what winning really means in terms of the American Spirit and why today’s match is so important.