During my time in South America I frequently encountered avid soccer fans that constantly dismissed the notion that a team from America could ever compete with their beloved representatives.
I found this idea unnerving since I spent my two years on the continent located in Peru, where the men’s national team hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1982. In time, I accepted the fact that the natives thought of the U.S. team as group outcasts that resorted to playing soccer after they were deemed athletes that couldn’t cut it in the more popular American athletic competitions.
Outside of the U.S., the sentiment expressed by Peruvians may have been shared by the other nations that compete within the Confederation of North, Central American and Carribean Association Football (CONCACAF), which governs the qualification of its members for the World Cup.
Mexico, though, is singing a different tune now that the Americans’ latest extra-time comeback ended in a 3-2 win over Panama. The result followed another loss by the Mexican National Team, which would’ve eliminated the squad known commonly as El Tri from the World Cup had the Yanks not tied or beaten Panama.
The Mexican commentators were overwhelmed with glee after Graham Zusi’s header in the 92nd minute snatched three points away from Panama and vaulted El Tri into a playoff with New Zealand. Yet their subsequent comments focused on the fact that we now live in a world where U.S.A. is better at soccer than Mexico.
El Tri has been an absolute mess in its qualifiers, but I’m not sure that the majority of residents in the States would agree. Most Americans are content with writing soccer off as a boring game, indulging in their preference for bone-crushing hits, high-flying athleticism or adherence to tradition elsewhere.
The Hexagonal, which is the final round of CONCACAF qualification for the World Cup, pits the six best teams in the region against one another for three guaranteed spots on soccer’s biggest stage. U.S.A. won the event, finishing with 22 points this year.
It is time for patriots of the land of opportunity to adopt their national team. Jurgen Klinsmann, manager of the USMNT, has his men playing a European brand of soccer and it is beautiful to watch. The team attacks as a unit and transitions defensively as though it had been playing together for years. The truth is he has used 23 different players in his starting lineups during qualification in preparation for his final roster decision that will come next year.
This team is not satisfied with just making it to Brazil because it wants to win. Klinsmann will unquestionably select the best 18-20 players from that group to take with him to Rio de Janeiro, but he has his sights set on hoisting the cup and won’t accept a different mentality from any member of his squad.
The reality of such an accomplishment is unlikely, but to think of the U.S. as just a team excited to participate is utterly naive. This team features a plethora of playing experience in Europe and has notched wins over talented sides like Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina recently.
CONCACAF’s best is ready to challenge the big boys and I sincerely hope its countrymen are ready to embellish a much-deserved support of the representatives of the stars and stripes.