There's this Ani Difranco lyric I think of at times like this. It's from "Willing to Fight;" the version of the song I think of was captured, live, on her album Living in Clip. The lyric is "I'll see what you're made of by what you make of me."
Because, how you like soccer now, America?
Can you handle a victorious, gutty loss that gets the team through? Can you feel great about an absolutely inspired performance that ends, by most conventional metrics, in failure - because suddenly we're participants in this whole world's thing, and they all have equal claim to it, and we understand that, and are proud that our men have improved enough to get to this stage twice in a row. We see the young guys and hope; we see the old guys and remember; we see the guys in their prime and go, "Well, you'll do for now, I guess."
This is how football is; it's not a power fantasy metaphor. It's a life-in-this-world metaphor, and - as is true of life in this world - it's got various ways to establish pecking orders. We are social primates, after all; we can't help but order and measure, gaze up, sneer down. And Germany, at this point in the game, are the sort of team that could run over a few dozen teams of our ilk and get away with it; they are royalty, and susceptible to affluenza.
Our hopes rested largely upon running at their odd backline, but the conditions made the kinds of quick first-touch combinations the US has built its counter on unavailable. Sans Jozy, the classic Route 1 was closed, too. And die Mannschaft were simply everywhere. Without an immaculate, inspirational performance from Jermaine Jones, we'd've been overrun in midfield despite the levelling effect of a sodden pitch. The US suffered well, to adopt the language of the oddly off-kilter Michael Bradley; indeed, their travel and rest disadvantages were negated by a palpable willingness to keep fighting. This was a perfect example of an encouraging 0-1 loss.
But I wonder how all this looks to a guy who's just donned a flag cape and sweated out six beers in Grant Park watching his first game. What will that guy make of a spectacle where the States do not dominate - where, in fact, domination is nowhere on the horizon? Will a USA that is brave, yes, but also humble make that guy proud?
If you're that guy, here's my pitch: This is how the world really is. If you think the USA is going to keep bossing the world, you've been sold a bill of goods. This is how it is - time to get with it. There's no better time than now, and there's no better way than soccer. We're inspirational underdogs. We don't run this.
That doesn't mean we suddenly have to lose our swagger. Belgium clowned us last year, but this is a different thing. Everyone handles pressure differently. We won't be favored, but we'll have a puncher's chance. Tramps like us. Willing to fight. Entire essays composed of fragments of song lyrics. Every game's a lottery ticket from here on out, friends. If we're still here, we've got a shot.
So we'll see now. I'd be hugely encouraged by an America where that guy gets it. US of fucking A. We're still here. Here's to hoping that guy will be, too.