One of the things that makes the United States of America a GREAT nation is our diversity. Within our borders, 317 million of us…and we’re all different. Our freedom allows us to be different, and we cherish that. It means we have 317 million opinions and points of view, and collectively, we rarely agree on anything. Of course, that means a myriad of conflicts; but life would be boring if we all thought, felt, and acted the same way. Ha! When it comes to sports, the rash of opinions and variety of perspectives keeps me in business. Very rarely do I come across another fan who roots for all the same teams as I do or who agrees with my ideas across the board with no exceptions. As sports fans, we’re passionate, proud, irrational, illogical, and defensive when it comes to our teams. Of course that means I regularly get accused of bias by some crazy fan: “disrespecting” or “doubting” or “hating” his team. Umm, no. I don’t have that kind of energy! But understanding this rampant diversity only added to my enjoyment of our World Cup debut in Brazil.
My favorite thing about the US victory over Ghana was the wave of collective spirit and fervor that gripped the nation for those two hours. One of the mantras for this American squad is “One Nation, One Team.” I could feel that! It was almost like time stopped while the result hung in the balance. The tension, nervous excitement, and enthusiasm for the Red, White & Blue was palpable and so much fun to witness in every corner of the country: from private viewing parties to hole-in-the-wall bars crammed full to outdoor venues with thousands watching huge big-screen TVs. For a couple hours, we forgot about our differences. The only thing that mattered is the one thing we share: loyalty to the USA. We all cheered wildly when Clint Dempsey scored the first goal 30 seconds into the match, even if we were caught off guard. We all grimaced when Jozy Altidore pulled up lame with his hamstring injury. We all fretted over the amount of time the Black Stars possessed the ball and cringed over their shots on goal. We were all crushed when Ghana tied the game late in the 2nd half, and we all went into orbit when John Brooks found the back of the net with his header four minutes later. Stoppage time nearly killed us as we pleaded with Team USA to hang on. And when the last few seconds finally ticked off the mysterious clock, we celebrated wildly, thrilled to share that moment with the stranger standing next to us.
Just as entertaining as watching the game (and trying to explain to my dog why we couldn’t go for a walk until after the final horn) was following the flow of the match on twitter. It turned into a veritable stream of consciousness, especially in the late stages where our collective hearts were racing. Every momentum swing or key moment unleashed hundreds of comments until everything US Soccer was trending. Awesome! My twitter feed is full of athletes and other sports figures, analysts, and media colleagues…I can’t remember tweets about anything else. That NEVER happens. Even during the Super Bowl or other major championship, our rooting interest is split. Or some of us don’t root at all. The closest thing to our US Soccer experience is the Olympics; but even on that stage, our attention is pulled in multiple directions by various sports taking place at the same time. And the passion just isn’t the same across the board. We may not care about soccer nearly as much in between World Cups; for a variety of reasons, the game doesn’t have the same mass appeal as our own football, basketball, baseball or hockey. But this is the grandest international stage in sports, and there’s no denying we’re caught up in the global excitement, pageantry, and passion.
There’s still plenty of room on the US Soccer bandwagon. Not all 317 million Americans were interested or tuned into the match with Ghana. But with a victory over Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, a first place finish in the Group of Death, a spot in the Round of 16 or a trip to the World Cup quarterfinals for just the second time since 1990…we’ll have to shove over and make room. This is one of those rare occasions when it’s socially acceptable to jump on a team’s bandwagon even if you haven’t been a fan all along. The more, the merrier and the sweeter the experience. I savor this chance to root on Team USA alongside millions of my closest friends as we share the same mind and the same heart for a few precious weeks.
“I believe…I believe that…I believe that we…I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!!”