The USA again came up short at the World Cup. So this time it felt different

For those who are stuck at work or school, or perhaps just knew the World Cup was about to begin, that Qatar had banned Budweiser, the end result will evoke familiar feelings.

United States 1, Wales 1.

A tie. That’s it, a 1-1 draw? Another World Cup draw, a bloated late lead to an aging team representing part of the UK with roughly the population of Iowa (3.1 million) and making their first World Cup appearance in 64 years?

It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, let alone attention. We should be better than that. Points on the table. Potential dried up in the Qatar heat. It was so familiar that someone could start with the old tired trope that USA will never be a good team until our best athletes play soccer, not basketball or football.

So, yes, doubt is an understandable emotion considering the USMNT has only won two World Cup games in the past two decades. Another draw and another international competition where the squeaks from group play won’t help.

But when you saw the Americans on Monday it was different, this team was different and it was obvious.

Make no mistake, that was a bad result for the Americans, a frustrating result because they were the better team on Monday, often a lot better. They should have won 2-0, 3-0 and a real team, a real contender, could have done that.

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

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

Instead, the USA missed numerous scoring chances, squandered a number of impressive performances and in the 82nd minute committed a blatant foul on Gareth Bale in the box to give a penalty that the Welsh legend had waited a lifetime to bury.

The USA should never have conceded that goal or endured a frantic final 20 minutes of regulation or stoppage time.

It should have won.

It didn’t. It now increases the pressure for Friday’s game against a far more challenging England team.

And yet …

This was a different kind of American team that produced this very well known result. The game’s launch showed what this group of US players can be, should be and likely will be.

You were brave. They were aggressive. There were stretches of domination. They were a fast, young, exciting and attacking team. This was Christian Pulisic, 24, showing off the superstar he has long been promised in every way, only now with the country watching.

This was the kind of football team that appealed to American sensibilities – confident and charismatic. It’s a group the country could rally around, regardless of their technical prowess.

For too long the US has gotten into major international competitions, playing on their heels only hoping to survive, only hoping not to be humiliated, and then trying to explain away often boring and limited results. For too long it felt hopeless.

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

Stereotypically, for the average American fan, there are two kinds of international sports: those we’re good at and stupid ones. The country isn’t much for resigning itself to limited success, just being there.

That wasn’t the case against Wales.

The Americans were the assertive side from the start. They had better players, better possession, better pressure. They surpassed the Welsh in youth, creativity and sheer power.

Tim Weah of the USA celebrates after scoring his team's only goal in Monday's game between the USA and Wales.  (Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Tim Weah of the USA celebrates after scoring his team’s only goal in Monday’s game between the USA and Wales. (Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

It was Wales that was left to survive and pray for a counterattack. They got the call they needed and that’s what keeps them alive. But they weren’t the better team.

That’s everything you’d expect from US Soccer in style. It was everything US soccer fans were begging to see. They have to last 90 minutes, they have to be more consistent, but at least that was something.

This country has too many kids playing the sport, too many great athletes, too many young talents in the big professional leagues to be anything but a darts and daring team. That’s why this basketball and soccer cliché has become so annoying.

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

However, they didn’t play as often as Americans often do. Too often the team has been meek and lacked the confidence that the country brings, albeit unfairly. That changed on Monday. Pulisic was a big part of it, a mega talent with a limitless motor. But there was more. Timothy Weah, who scored in the 36th minute. Tyler Adams. Weston McKennie. Josh Sargent. Etc.

This was a 180 from the listless, lifeless pre-cup friendlies, talking to the same old people, the same old people.

If they can get that going, if they make it to the knockout rounds, this could be a team that Americans can finally really rally behind. If …

The USA didn’t win on Monday because they almost never win at World Cups. They still deserve it. you should have.

That is not enough. It should never be enough.

However, it was something else, even if the score suggests otherwise.


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