I woke up this morning to find that the air conditioner in my bedroom had leaked inside and bubbled the paint under the window. I took the dog for a walk, hoping to get coffee, and he stepped on my foot and sliced upon my big toe. The first coffee place had a line about 12 deep, and the dog doesn’t have that kind of patience, I was at the second spot for about two minutes, ready to place my order, when I saw him jumping at strangers and heard him barking. Walking home, coffee-less and in pain, wondering about how I would fix the AC, I got an email from work, informing me that a long-time parishioner is more ill than initially assumed. It was 10:30.
These are bad omens. These are harbingers of dark shit to come. Every obstacle, setback and disruption reminds me of one thing: Germany at noon. In moments, the USMNT will take the field against one of the best teams in the world, needing a draw to advance and a win to take first place in group G. If they lose, they need Ghana and Portugal to draw one another, Ghana to win by one in a low scoring affair or Portugal to win by less than 4 (I think). It will not be easy to beat the Germans, who field among the best attacking players assembled in this tournament, and play with a precision and intensity that the US will have to match. They cannot switch off for a moment, as they did in the 5th minute, and then again 90 minutes later, against Portugal. They cannot absorb a game’s worth of pressure, allowing Germany time on the ball to pick apart the weaknesses of the American defense, as they did against Ghana. To emerge from this group will be as difficult as we imagined it would be when the names were drawn six months ago.
I woke up to a shining sun, when it was supposed to have been raining. On our walk, the dog and I ran into an old friend from college, and had a nice chat. I had the opportunity to actually take the dog on a leisurely walk in less-than-oppressive humidity, not rushing to get home or back to work. I managed to find a parking spot across the street from the third coffee shop, and actually parallel park my way into it. I remembered to buy toilet paper.
These are good omens. These are signs that the stars have aligned for the US, and they are destined to get done what they must and live to play another day. They have a great chance to make it to the next round. The Germans have little to play for, and shouldn’t be expected to throw themselves fully into the attack, probably happy to allow their superior goal differential to carry them to the top of the group, or to get one goal quickly and sit on that lead. Ghana have, this morning, kicked Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, two of their most creative players, off the team, which means they obviously won’t be in the lineup, and thus Ghana’s chances to beat Portugal are that much slimmer. And five goals are a lot to score, even for a team with Cristiano Ronaldo, even having seen what he can do when given the opportunity.
There are no omens. There are no stars aligning. There are simply possibilities and odds and opportunities. There is luck and there is chance, but there is no fate. There are four teams: each of whom can theoretically make it to the next round; each of whom can theoretically be on the next plane home. They are going to play the games, and we are going to watch (I hope you’re going to watch), and we are going to live and die with every kick, with every run, with every leaping save and towering header. And we will not know how it ends until it’s over.
Can the US win against Germany? They can. It would take a monumental effort from the entire US team, from Klinsmann on down, but it isn’t impossible. The US has played close with great teams in the past, and even beaten them. They have a team that is in great form and is coming together at just the right time. Cameron* and Besler, despite the former’s miscues, have proven to be strong, courageous and intelligent in the face of persistent attacks. Beasley and Johnson have proven adept at getting forward from deep, but never forgetting their duties at the back, probing weaknesses and stretching defenses while keeping their own line secure. Kyle Beckerman has been a rock, slipping in to the defensive line when needed and coming up to break up attacks when possible. Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley have both been our engines, and though neither (especially Bradley) has been perfect, they have demonstrated their ability to boss a midfield, to cut off passes and initiate offense. Graham Zusi has been a steady presence, finding space for himself and teammates, reliable on corners and free kicks. Clint Dempsey and Time Howard continue to be the on-field and spiritual leaders of this team, two players who expect the most of themselves and those around them, who wear their pride and confidence on their sleeves and who leave nothing of themselves on the field at the end of any match. These are the players who we have, and the players who we need, and the players who will take the field in a few minutes to try and claim victory.
I can’t predict this match, because the game is unpredictable even when it’s obvious. Any team can squander great opportunities, and any team can find the back of the net from the least dangerous places. But I will stick with this team. I like our chances with this team. They’ve brought us here and they may bring us further yet. If they play like they did for nearly 90 minutes against Portugal, we’ll be playing for a long time. If they can keep their shape and take their chances when they come, if they can be patient and wait for their moment, if they can read the game and react to what their given, Uncle Sam’s Army will be singing as the clock runs out and the whistle blows.
There are a lot of “ifs,” and some of them the team itself does not control, but of those they do, there is a chance. There is life in this team, and there is joy. There is dedication and there is preparation. There is so much to this team to like, that it will be devastating to watch them go home, to see it all come apart. But if it does come apart, it will not be because they have let us or themselves down. It will not be because they didn’t put everything that had into this tournament and into this team. It will be because that’s the way the world works. That sometimes your best isn’t good enough, and sometimes you can’t control everything around around you.
But when your best is enough, and when everything around you falls right into place, that is a feeling and a moment you hold onto and cherish forever. When you set the goal and reach it. When you clear the bar that no one thought you had any business setting for yourself in the first place, it makes the work and the setbacks and the difficulties seem like mere preparation for that moment. All the failures that preceded it only sweeten the success.
There is no soccer tomorrow. This is it. This is the game the US plays, and the players with whom it will play. This is the team we have, and the team we have come to love, in their failure and their success. There is no soccer tomorrow. But there may be more yet in the days to come.
*I guess we’re going with Gonzalez, which, oh. Klinsy has done everything else pretty much right, but Gonzalez was far more directly responsible for the Portugal equalizer than anyone else. Also, I have no idea what we’re doing with Brad Davis either. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.