World Cup Finals records since 1990:
West Germany - 5 Wins, 2 Ties, 1990 World Champion
Germany - 22 Wins, 5 Ties, 6 Losses
United States - 5 Wins, 8 Ties, 13 Losses
Well at least we've caught up to West Germany. Five wins in seven World Cups may sound bad, but in reality, it puts the U.S. solidly in the middle class. Once you get past the six usual suspects (Germany, Brazil, Holland, Argentina, Italy, Spain) the win totals drop quickly. What sets us apart is the number of losses. Between 1990 and 2010 the only other team with double digit losses was South Korea. The difference between success and failure at the World Cup has less to do with winning than it does with not losing.
Slowly, but surely, the U.S. is getting there. The U.S. hasn't been beaten in regulation at the World Cup since the Ghana game eight years ago. The last six games have seen us win 2, tie 3, and lose in overtime.
The U.S. is not a world power in Men's soccer. Maybe it never will be. But it has slowly and steadily become one of the better teams. The U.S. has economic and demographic advantages that can't be ignored. Yes, there are a fair number of imported players on this U.S. team. But look around, there are a smattering of U.S. born players on other teams in the World Cup - a number that will only continue to increase.
There might be a state change or tipping point in the acceptance of soccer as a spectator sport in the United States, but there won't be a state change in the fortunes of the Men's National Team. We won't win this World Cup, but here's no going back either. The U.S. won't spend another 40 years in the wilderness. Sure, the U.S. might slip up and fail to qualify for a World Cup in the future, but pretty much everybody except Brazil trips up every now and again.
My point is that we're beginning to see what happens when a country of three hundred million takes something seriously.
The game tomorrow in Recife isn't a referendum on the Men's National Team, nor on the future success of soccer in the United States. It is, however, a chance to take another data point. A draw or win and the U.S. will have gone through consecutive World Cups without losing a group stage game. Who else can say that?
The U.S. is in a transitory stage from being a team that's just glad to be here, treating every game as a must-win game to one that's treating each game strategically. There's a bigger objective here and the U.S. is finally showing the tactical sophistication to get there.
There are two concepts at play, one long term and one short term. The long term play is analogous to precision - getting the same result from the same action even if it's off target. The short term play is similar to accuracy - how close can you get with the next attempt, even if it's not reproduceable or reliable.
I've always taught that you practice precision and play for accuracy. In the game you want to win, but in practice you need to be able to predict your actions in the theory that you can correct your aim in the long run.
That's where we are. The U.S. has shown over the last few World Cups, Confed Cups, and World Cup Qualifying campaigns that it's has gotten better. We can and often do get results when we need them.
The next step is precision. A draw or win tomorrow would be a good sign.
All things being equal, however, a Ghana Portugal draw would suit me just fine.
Me? I'm going to spend the next 12 hours freaking out.