U.S. came up short once again at the World Cup. Here’s why it felt different this time

For those stuck at work or school, or perhaps their only awareness of the start of the World Cup was that Qatar banned Budweiser, the end result will evoke familiar feelings.

United States 1, Wales 1.

A tie. That’s it, 1-1 draw? Another World Cup game, delaying the senior team, which is part of the United Kingdom with the population of Iowa (3.1 million) for the first time in the last 64 years in the World Cup?

It doesn’t inspire confidence, let alone attention. We have to be better than that. Points remain on the table. The potential fades in the heat of Qatar. It was so familiar that one might start with the tired old trope that the USA will never be a good team as long as our best athletes play football, not basketball or soccer.

So yes, the skepticism is an understandable feeling, as the USMNT has won just two World Cup games in the last two decades. Another tie and another international competition, which is not helped by exiting the group stage.

But if you watch the Americans on Monday, something was different, this team was something different, and it was obvious.

Make no mistake, it was a bad result for the Americans, a disappointing result, because they were the better team on Monday, and often much better. They should have won 2-0, 3-0, and the right team, the real challenger, would have done it.

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Christian Pulisic of the United States reacts after the 1-1 draw in the World Cup match between the USA and Wales.  (Maja Hitij - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Christian Pulisic of the United States reacts after the 1-1 draw in the World Cup match between the USA and Wales. (Maja Hitij – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Instead, the U.S. squandered numerous scoring chances, missed a string of impressive performances, and in the 82nd minute flagrantly fouled Gareth Bale and gave up a free-kick that left the Welsh legend waiting to be buried for life.

The USA should never have gotten that goal or suffered through the final 20 minutes of regulation or timeout.

He should have won.

It didn’t happen. It now ramps up the pressure for Friday’s game against a much tougher England side.

And still…

It was a different kind of American team that produced an all-too-familiar result. The start of the game showed what this group of US players can be, should be and will likely be.

They were brave. They were angry. There was a reign. This team was fast, young, exciting and attacking. It was Christian Pulisic, 24, showing every bit of the superstardom he was promised long ago, only now with the country watching.

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It was the type of football team that speaks to the American sensibility – confident and charismatic. This is a group that the country could rally around regardless of their technical knowledge.

For too long, the U.S. has stepped into major international tournaments hoping to survive, hoping only to not be humiliated, and then trying to explain the often dull and limited results. He felt hopeless for a very long time.

It’s one thing to be bad, or at least average. It’s boring and bad.

Stereotypically, for the average American fan, there are two types of international sports: the good ones and the dumb ones. The country isn’t so much about giving up on limited success, just being there.

It wasn’t against Wales.

From the beginning, the Americans were the stronger side. They had better players, better retention and better pressure. They outplayed Wales with youth and creativity and relentless energy.

USA's Tim Weah celebrates after scoring his only goal in the USA v Wales game on Monday.  (Mark Atkins/Getty Images)

USA’s Tim Weah celebrates after scoring his team’s only goal in the USA v Wales game on Monday. (Mark Atkins/Getty Images)

It was Wales trying to stay alive and praying for a counter-attack. They got the call they needed and that keeps them alive. But they weren’t the better team.

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It’s everything you could want in a US Soccer style. It was everything US soccer fans were asking to see. They should have brought it for 90 minutes, they should have been more consistent, but at least it was something.

This country has too many kids playing sports, too many great athletes, too many young talents in the major professional leagues who are nothing but a side of grit and grit. That’s why that cliché of basketball and football is so tired.

The US has always been athletic enough. Lionel Messi is 5-foot-7. Neymar weighs 150. These aren’t arenas full of LeBron James or Tyreek Hills.

Most of the time, they don’t play like Americans. Often the team was meek, unsure, even if unfounded, of the way the country was carrying itself. That changed on Monday. Pulisic was a key part of that, a mega-talent with an unlimited motor. But there was more. Timothy Weah, who scored in the 36th minute. Tyler Adams. Weston McKenney. Josh Sargent. And so on.

It was 180 from the listless, lifeless before the friendly cup, with the same age, the same age.

If they can do that, if they make it to the knockout rounds, this could be a team Americans can finally really root for. If…

The USA didn’t win on Monday because they almost never win World Cup games. However, they deserved it. They should have.

This is not enough. It should never be enough.

It was something else, even if the score would suggest otherwise.


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