Weeks ago, when the USMNT secured a point against England, a real special feeling began to build around this group playing their hearts out in South Africa. A come-back draw against Slovenia and a late win against Algeria saw fans jump on the USMNT bandwagon, and grow fanatical about their new-found game and national team.
After the group stage ended, and USA was drawn against Ghana, I heard one USMNT fan make the statement that if USA did not reach the semi-finals, it would be a massive disappointment. It was as if this fan had completely overlooked the fact that Ghana would have to be beaten, as would either Uruguay or South Korea. The delusion that had grown so quickly in USMNT fans was quite staggering to me.
Landon Donovan’s last-minute goal against Algeria seemed to instil a kind of ‘USA against the world’ feel in USMNT fans. Players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley had all of a sudden become world-beating superstars in the minds of many USA fans. Even the players themselves were getting absurdly optimistic. Landon Donovan was already thinking about having a film made about his successes in South Africa, and he had also picked Johnny Depp to be the actor to play him.
Early goals conceded against England, Slovenia and Ghana show how over-confident this USA side must have been. I believe this side was in need of a reality check, and I believe the fans needed one as well. I wrote an article days before USA’s first group game, which addressed the error in overlooking Algeria and Slovenia. Fans commented and said that these games would be cake-walks, that they would be nothing to worry about, that maximum points would not be a problem. Even before the USMNT played, fans were completely delusional. Looking back, those two games were anything but easy. Slovenia, it has to be said, were lucky not to be beaten by Maurice Edu’s late goal, but don’t forget they had the USMNT down 2-0 at half-time. Algeria took everything USA could offer as well, only to fail in the dying seconds of the match.
This Ghana match is what the USMNT deserved. The team lacks any real technically gifted players, and the ones the do have – Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey – will not be enough to carry a team into the latter stages of this tournament. Ricardo Clark, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, and Jozy Altidore should not be playing at a World Cup tournament – ever. If a national team is relying on Jozy Altidore for goals, who could barely get a game for Hull City FC and who were relegated from the English Premier League, then there is a serious lack of quality about certain aspects of the team.
It blows me away that many USMNT fans expected a semi-final finish because beating Ghana and Uruguay would be ‘so easy.’ A reality check please, and fast. It is delusion like this that deters the game in the USA. Fans jump on the USMNT bandwagon and immediately dismiss sides that they have never heard of. The problem is, outside of USA, football fans in Europe or in Asia or in Africa would have known very little about USA, not the other way around. American fans immediately take on the ‘our way or the highway’ mentality when it comes to their national team. The over-expectancy is a delusion that was waiting to be exposed, and now it has been. This is not a sport that America can simply just take over with players like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. This is not a stage where America can just expect to dominate, like they do everything else. This is a World event. This is a game that is a religion in many countries around the world. This is a passion to people who have little more than pennies a day to keep them going. America and many USMNT fans do not understand the kind of passion and emotions that people outside of USA have for this sport and for this tournament. There will be no American cinderella story here.
USMNT fans that have followed the team for years and have seen what the national team are capable of and what they are not will know that beating Ghana or Uruguay or South Korea, for that matter, would not have been easy at all. This is the World Cup. These are the best teams in the World. In the whole World. Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley are not players who can stand with the best of them. Benny Feilhaber and Jay DeMerit would not even make the C-teams of many of the sides participating in the tournament. It is shocking and absolutely delusional to think that this USA side – who relied almost solely on heart and determination to carry them even this far – would reach the semi-finals of this tournament, or even advance to the semi-finals.
It must be said, the USMNT made a fine show of things. They added a side-story to an already wonderful World Cup tournament. Sorry Americans, the show will go on without you.