The Day Soccer Revived America's Hope

Meredith Turney

6/27/2010 1:39:59 PM - Meredith Turney

It was an ending so dramatic that even Hollywood’s best writers couldn’t have scripted it. After a courageous 90-minute fight against a defiant Algeria, it seemed that once again America’s World Cup dreams would end in disappointment. In just the first two weeks of the international competition, Team USA had been denied two game-changing goals and been on the losing end of questionable referring decisions, but had battled back.

As millions of soccer fans watched with bated breath, American soccer star Landon Donavan scored an amazing goal with just three minutes of play remaining, sending America to the elite round of 16. For a country that isn’t usually passionate about soccer, suddenly soccer was the center of every conversation. Outside of Saturday morning children tournaments, soccer has never enjoyed the same popularity, money or prestige of basketball and football, or even hockey. But, true to the American spirit, this country loves an underdog. And when it comes to underdogs, America’s soccer team has seen its share of heartbreak and loss on the international level. All it took was one significant game in the biggest sporting event in the world to renew America’s interest in what is considered the world’s most popular sport. Before the start of the 2010 World Cup, most Americans probably didn’t know the name of even one member of the country’s representatives at the competition. But the team’s victory may have sparked a new interest in what was once considered the pastime sport of childhood. There was so much buzz about Landon Donavan’s miraculous soccer goal it set a new Internet record, with traffic reaching 11.2 million visitors per minute. Athletic events have the ability to renew our patriotic passion and pride. Sports—especially international events—are supposed to transcend politics. But in a way, it is the very venue where one expresses nationalistic pride the most. If internationalists truly understood the patriotism inspired by sports, they would end what they consider xenophobic-inducing competitions. In 1980, the Olympic Miracle on Ice was such a miracle not only because the underdog American hockey team was unlikely to beat the steely Communist Soviet Union team, but because it served as a metaphor for the Cold War. When America bested the Soviets, the country was downtrodden. An inept Jimmy Carter had allowed the country to slip into a recession, which Carter blamed upon a “crisis of confidence.” In that infamous “Malaise” speech, Carter recognized the mood of the country, by observing, “It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.” But instead of cheering America on to greatness, he called upon Americans, for the “nation’s security,” to limit travel and use more public transportation. How inspiring: don’t expect to overcome current problems, just acclimate. Just like thirty years ago, America is once again experiencing a crisis of confidence. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, an astonishing 67% of Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction. And in an eerily similar manner, just last week Barack Obama, who is increasingly compared to Carter, took the opportunity of a national crisis to chide Americans about their “addictive” use of energy. This week Vice President Joe Biden channeled Carter and once again preached the gospel of concession and acclimation by pronouncing, “there's no possibility to restore 8 million jobs lost in the Great Recession.” Has Biden forgotten that Americans don’t know the meaning of impossible? The 1980 Miracle on Ice triggered a renewed sense of patriotism and that indomitable can-do attitude that is the hallmark of American exceptionalism. Months later, Ronald Reagan was elected president and through his eloquent reminding, the country rediscovered its purpose. America is in the doldrums. Patriotism is considered passé. The man inhabiting the White House won’t even acknowledge American exceptionalism, betraying an elitist attitude towards such small-minded nationalism. Obama seems too concerned with impressing the international community. Like the Miracle on Ice, Team USA’s exciting victory on Wednesday could be the latest example of a sporting event reinvigorating the country’s patriotic spirit. In the hours following the soccer match, videos popped up all over YouTube showing Americans’ reactions to the unbelievable goal seen ’round the world. Spontaneous outbursts of The Star Spangled Banner were heard in the streets. And the one remarkable consistency among all the videos from every corner of the nation showed an instantaneous chanting of “USA, USA, USA!” Sadly, just four days after America’s euphoric win over Algeria, America’s dream of reaching the World Cup finals were ended in an overtime loss to Ghana—the same country that beat America at the last World Cup. But regardless of how far they ultimately advanced in the competition, when Landon Donavan kicked that now legendary goal with seconds left on the game clock, Team USA kick-started a renewed sense of patriotism. Let’s channel that patriotism. That indomitable spirit exemplified by Team USA can overcome our current problems. Many in this country feel that we are in the last few minutes of our nation’s greatness. But as America’s soccer team showed us, even when all seems lost, we can turn things around and be victorious. That’s the story of America.