Throughout this World Cup, the rallying cry for the U.S. national team has been the stirring, straightforward "I Believe That We Will Win."
It's a defiant chant, one that's downright American in its optimism. After all, as recently as two weeks ago, no one outside of the team's core supporters actually believed they would win anything. But then came the thrilling victory over Ghana, the rise of unlikely heroes John Brooks and Jermaine Jones, the gutty play of captain Clint Dempsey, the roller-coaster draw against powerful Portugal. Suddenly, the chant seemed slightly less delusional. We, as a nation, bought in. What can we say? We've always had a thing for Manifest Destiny.
Now, all that stands between the U.S. and a birth in the round of 16 is Germany, one of the top 5 teams on the planet (ranked ahead of World Cup faves Brazil, even) and a force in this tournament for more than half a century. We're also only 3-6 against them all time. So, with apologies to the American Outlaws, perhaps we should amend our battle cry, albeit just slightly: "I Believe That We Will Draw."
Yes, a win would be nice, but a tie with the mighty Germans also gets the U.S. through (technically, we could also lose and advance, but then it comes down to math, and the last time this country cared about that we were hammering out the Three-Fifths Compromise). So while a draw might not resonate particularly well with America's all-or-nothing, scoreboard-centric ethos, this is the World Cup. Come Thursday, when we take the pitch against Germany, let's put pride aside and play on.
Because this team must play on. They've already survived the scrutiny, weathered the storm of early injuries and late-game equalizers, played through coach Jürgen Klinsmann's plain-spoken "pep" talks (though, in all fairness, the calculating German has pushed all the right buttons at this Cup). In the process, they have won over a nation that usually treats the sport with contempt – Stephen Colbert summed it up best earlier this week, when he dejectedly declared "I care about soccer" – and given us a shining example of the kind of "American Values" that seemingly only exist on post cards and in politicians' speeches. Hard work, unity born out of adversity, succeeding in the face of overwhelming odds…they're not the 1980 U.S. hockey team just yet, but the parallels are there, and the political climate isn't all that dissimilar either.
By advancing, the U.S. would also make history; this nation has never made it to the knockout round in consecutive Cups, and to do it now, coming out of the so-called "Group of Death," would serve notice that we've finally arrived as an international player. This means more than you could imagine; it is a referendum on the strategies of our national program, and the quality of our league, Major League Soccer. It shows that we're headed in the right direction, and that someday soon – 2018? – we could actually, really, genuinely have a shot at winning the World Cup.
We'd make a "No pressure" joke here, but this team has continued to prove that they are impervious to pressure. Instead, let's leave it at this: For the U.S. to come up short would be, at best, disappointing, and at worst, unjust. So, guys, let's do it. Let's beat Germany, or at least play them to a draw. For the American Outlaws who believed when no one else did, for a nation that could use a lift, for the "soccer sucks" crowd that continues to deny the sport's inevitable ascension…let's play on.
Win, lose or draw, we can do it. What comes after that? Well, the actual answer is either Belgium or (probably) Algeria. The more abstract one is this: Everything. Advancing is just the first step. Can the U.S. win the World Cup? That depends. Do you believe in miracles?