When sports fans and analysts look back at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil there are a few things they will remember. The most obvious will be whoever ends up winning the tournament and their amazing run. Another will be some of the surprising and amazing moments that occurred throughout the tournament. From stoppage time goals, to bites, to head-butts to record setting goalkeeping, many will never forget some of the individual performances. However, there will be one team that stands out even years into the future, the United States Men’s National Team, USMNT.
A lot of questions had surrounded the USMNT since 2011 when head coach Bob Bradley was fired. U.S. Soccer brought in German coach Jürgen Klinsmann to fill the position and rebuild the national team. By 2014, fans realized Klinsmann would be faced with a significantly difficult task as he nearly did rebuild the team, bringing both youth and experience onto the squad. Many were weary of Klinsmann at first, wondering if a man who won the World Cup as a German player then led the German national team to a semifinal as a coach could put his whole heart into the United States. However, no one questions Klinsmann’s loyalty or heart now.
The faith of the nation would be put to the test in December of 2013 when the World Cup draw placed the United States into what would be known as “The Group of Death.” The United States would be forced to play against a rising team in Portugal, tournament favorites Germany and African rivals Ghana. Ghana had knocked the United States out of the past two World Cup tournaments, so many fans were worried from the start. Amazingly in the month after the draw Portugal moved up in the rankings to join Germany as one of the top five teams in the world. Many analysts and fans believed the United States would have no chance in the Group of Death.
Despite the odds being stacked against them, the USMNT and many of their fans never lost hope. Klinsmann picked a team full of youth, experience, hope and heart. Quite a few of the players were German-American like Klinsmann, which he believed brought significant experience to the team. Klinsmann would be proved correct time and time again, as he squad defied all expectations.
From the start of the tournament the United States had some of the most vibrant fans. The United States’ man fan group, the American Outlaws, made sure to make their presence known at every game, whether it was in Brazil or in cities across America. American fans even adopted the chant “I Believe.” This became the signature chant for the team in the tournament. Before the games began you could see “I Believe” posted all over social networking groups, chanted in bars where the Outlaws watched the games and in the stands in Brazil. The fans surely did believe in their team, and that belief paid off.
The first goal was to beat Ghana in the USMNT’s first game of the tournament. The USMNT was able to do this by a margin of 2-1 over the African country, giving them a significant chance of moving on. Earlier that day, Germany thumped Portugal 4-0 taking away Portugal’s momentum and setting a score line that would eventually help the USMNT on goal differential. The USMNT’s next game was against Portugal. Going into the tournament ranked 4th in the world, many thought Portugal would win easily. However, the USMNT played brilliantly and dominated most of the game. The United States was up 2-1 until the very last minute when Portugal managed to tie up the game. However, this didn’t feel like a tie or a win for the United States, it felt like a loss. The USMNT played one of their best games ever in their history and had deserved a victory, only to have it taken from them in the last minute. However, the US would still remain second in the group.
The last game of the group came against Germany. Again the United States would put on a fantastic performance against the number 2 team in the world, but in the end the USMNT lost 1-0. However, many in the United States were amazed we had held perhaps the best team in the world(Spain was ranked #1 but had been knocked out of the tournament at that point). At that same time, Portugal beat Ghana 2-1 allowing the USMNT and Germany to advance form the Group of Death. The United States had defied expectations and analysis yet again.
In the Round of 16 the United States was put up against Belgium. Belgium remains the dark horse of the tournament; a team many believe could stun Germany, Brazil and Argentina and win the tournament. Throughout the game, Belgium proved to be the best, but the United States held them 0-0 in regular time. The United States would end up losing 2-1 in extra time, but the United States never gave up. In no other player was this effort more evident in than our goalkeeper, Tim Howard. Howard would end the game with a record setting 16 saves, never giving up on his team or his country.
Everyone knows soccer isn’t a huge sport in the United States, but the USMNT of 2014 made everyone believe otherwise. For the first time in a long time a majority of Americans stopped to watch their national team play their hearts out in Brazil. The USMNT was against all odds, but the fans believed. More importantly, a nation believed. Despite all that is happening in the country at this time, Americans stopped to cheer their nation on in the national spotlight. Even though the time was short, we were really one nation and one team. The USMNT made all Americans proud. Neither the team nor the fans gave up or lost hope. There were questions on how the team may feel going into these games, but they had hope. They felt proud of their country and they were honored to represent the country on the national stage. You could see the pride and honor each of them had each time the national anthem played. Each player had an important role, and they made their country proud. That is the American way, to be proud and to give 110% every time. These players should be proud, and every American should be proud they represented us. Many critics continued to be critical, and some even argued soccer isn’t good for the nation, but they are wrong. Against all odds, they gave it their all. The USMNT of 2014 should go down in history for capturing the heart of a nation, I believed, many believed and we will continue to believe.