The U.S. men’s national team has one of the great chants in sports (poached from the United States Naval Academy and the Naval Academy Prep before it).
It begins with a single fan screaming “I” and then “I believe” and so on until the entire six-word phrase is repeatedly shouted to a bobbing, dancing, increasingly frantic group of supporters.
“I believe that we will win.”
It’s great, except for the fact the USMNT almost never actually wins, at least not when it matters.
Friday was the latest example, a 0-0 tie with England in the Americans’ second World Cup game. There was plenty to like about the USMNT’s performance and hardcore fans can find some pride in the fact they shut out a powerhouse European team and had plenty of stretches where it looked like the superior team.
Still, it was a tie, not a win. And this tie accomplished absolutely nothing for the U.S., which needed a victory, either against England or in the group stage finale next Tuesday against Iran, to advance to the knockout round.
When winning is all that matters, then a tie doesn’t matter.
Fun game, but this was meaningless. This was pointless. This was a missed opportunity.
Belief that a victory will come, that the U.S. will one day win, is a powerful emotion, not just a chant. And it has driven America’s outsized passion for its soccer team. There was plenty of U.S. support in the stands half a world away, and watch parties from living rooms to bars to downtown squares back home.
There are a lot of people hoping and dreaming that the United States actually gets good, actually does start winning.
Yet the USMNT is now just 2-7-6 in World Cup play over the last two decades. That’s it, a measly two victories. They came against Algeria (2010) and Ghana (2014). That’s it.
On the biggest of stages, it just exists. Lots of talk about the time they almost won or how Landon Donovan pulled out a late tie or who knows what else.
The good news Friday was that the core of young players that make up this team expressed disappointment in not beating England. There wasn’t a lot of moral victory talk. Yes, Christian Pulisic hit a crossbar, but you can hit 100 of them and it doesn’t matter. That shot wasn’t going in.
So now it comes down to actually winning a game that it must win. It comes down to proving that it can do something that its famous chant is rooted in.
Beat Iran, which is ranked 20th in the world (the U.S. is 16th). Beat Iran, which lost 6-2 Monday to this same England team.
The challenge: Iran doesn’t need to win on Tuesday. Due to its 2-0 victory over Wales (who the Americans tied 1-1), all the Iranians need is a draw. They can pack it in, especially late in a close game, and play for the tie.
Whatever, if the USMNT isn’t up for that challenge, if they can’t rise up to beat a beatable team in a game they have to win, then it is once again back to the drawing board, because believing just isn’t enough.