(WFI) Second best is among the most un-American concepts imaginable.
The USA is a country founded on the Puritan work ethic in which hard labour and sacrifice reaps its just reward – success. And no-one works harder than those representing the Stars and Stripes. Be it service personnel on the battlefronts of Asia or athletes waging “war” on the playing fields of Europe there’s an underlying conviction that the American way is best and will ultimately triumph whatever the odds.
It’s a level of belief and self-confidence that you rarely encounter elsewhere in the world. Though, unfortunately for the Americans, on the football field it has no basis in reality as a positive mental attitude is only part of the equation; though you wouldn’t have known it during the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany.
Football fever didn’t quite grip the nation during the USA’s run to the final, but it certainly took a solid hold and made temporary soccer fans of millions.
For a week or so, Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and their fellow players were conversational currency, attracting unprecedented attention on Twitter as the US advanced through the competition by sheer force of will. The never-say-die attitude of Pia Sundhage’s team perhaps touching something fundamental in this “can do” society.
Naturally, as the tournament progressed, the innate confidence of the American team grew exponentially as a side that only scraped into the finals as the last qualifier began to sense that destiny had already written their name on the trophy.
If the team was feeling that way, then it went double for the American fans, especially the casual fair weather ones lacking the experience to appreciate the vagaries of the game. To them, success seemed assured, and the interest snowballed. Indeed, in the lead-up to the final with Japan the American coverage of the game carried an air of inevitability about the outcome, as if the Sports Illustrated magazine cover, Wheaties cereal box shoot, and talk show appearances on Leno and Letterman were already booked.
Unfortunately for the Americans they ran up against a team with more to play for than fame, fortune or legend; and surely only the most jingoistic of US supporters will begrudge the quake-inspired Japanese their victory, especially as the manner of it was so heroic.
But that still left the Americans in a bit of a quandary – Is it ever okay to be second best?
Well, on this occasion, the American public put aside its “winner takes all” principles and embraced the homecoming team like champions. Granted, the sporting media felt duty bound to discuss whether Team USA choked in the final, but the fact they were discussing it at all in this soccer-phobic society was a giant leap forward. And the conclusion wasn’t all bad, with most understanding that the cards in a penalty shoot-out don’t necessarily fall your way.
Certainly there were dissenters who argued that as the No.1 ranked team the USA underachieved. There was also a contentious theory that had it been the men’s team and not the women’s that lost, the failure would have been judged more harshly because men are held to a higher standard.
But overall, Team USA received a positive response despite coming up short, and I for one am glad about that as their performance had a lot of pluses.
The American women gave us drama. They gave us entertainment. They showed us character. They showed us personality. They were tactical. They were physical. They were passionate. And, in defeat, they were gracious.
They flew their flag with pride and dignity, enhancing the reputation of American soccer on the global stage. Okay, so they are not world champions, but sometimes there’s more to a game than just winning it, and this year’s women’s World Cup would have been infinitely poorer had the second best team in the competition not played its part.
By INSIDER columnist Terry Baddoo
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