The blogosphere is in a tizzy over World Cup USA Team goalie Tim Howard. Despite a crushing 2-1 loss to Belgium, the world wide web went wild (say that really quickly) over Howard, who managed to save nearly everything except the win needed to keep team USA in the 2014 World Cup mix. By no means is this statement intended to throw shade at Howard, who had 16 saves, the most in any World Cup game since 1996, but in the end, Belgium sealed the deal, not team USA. But back to Howard.
Although folks are acting like Howard just got on the international soccer scene, this is his second world cup, so welcome adoring fans. He has been loving and leading soccer professionally since 1997, way before this throng of fair weather American fans discovered him, pun intended. Howard, who was born in New Jersey, has been helping to build and shape America’s presence in the international soccer arena for over a decade. What World Cup soccer fans witnessed was not some “Magical Negro” who just rolled out of bed and arrived on the soccer scene miraculously making saves, but a seasoned professional soccer player playing with passion and conviction, who has trained his entire life for this very moment.
Even though the level of worship that is happening to Howard is pretty awesome in some ways, it is maddening in others. Howard has been hard at work for a very long time. He has skin in the game and should be treated as such, not like some one-hit wonder. This adoration and the acknowledgment of team USA as a professional squad is also based on the realization that fans finally understand that team USA is a major player in the international sport of soccer (fútbol). If there’s anything about the U.S. that we love more than the idea of winning (the Confederate Army, cough, cough) is actually winning (the Union Army, cough, cough). We love the idea of winning so much, that we actually celebrate losing and pretend as if we’ve won (see Confederate reenactments and Fox News’ coverage of President Obama’s landslide victory over former Gov. Mitt Romney).
The hysteria over team USA making it this far and beating African fútbol royalty in the process (Ghana), is cause for celebration. Team USA beat a storied team and then played like champions against another storied team. Score!
Tim Howard’s performance in the illustrious international soccer tournament reflects the United States’ belief system that we will win against all odds, even when those odds are stacked against us (see Grenn and the men of the Night’s Watch hold the inner gate against the giant Wildling in Game of Thrones). I know that Grenn and Co. aren’t American — it’s an example. Even though death was imminent, part of the hoopla is that team USA performed much better than expected, Howard and team showed up, stood firm and fought, because they inherently understand that sometimes the greatest opportunities are presented in the most difficult defeats. That is a very American way of seeing the world, which is why despite the loss, America is going crazy over Howard.
The opportunity for the United States to finally become a player in international soccer is real because the possibility of winning on the world’s stage is finally real. Led by Howard, throughout their time in the tournament, team USA showed up and showed out confirming their place on the world fútbol map as contenders if not winners, yet.
Enjoy the Tim Howard celebration blitz, but give credit where credit is due. He earned it by refusing to go quietly into that good night, instead kicking and screaming and ushering in a period that will undoubtedly see the popularity of soccer soar due largely to his record-breaking performance against Belgium, one save at a time.