1. Out of respect to BritSkin, I thought that instead of doing a straight U.S. Soccer Sixpack, I would go with a Redskins angle to the piece. So much of how I support my other teams in sports is rooted in my experience of being a Redskins fan, anyway. I know not everyone is as big of a soccer fan as I am, but I also know that there are plenty of Redskins fans glued to the television watching the World Cup. Maybe we can all reach a happy medium on this one. As for me, I can barely think about anything other than tomorrow's knockout game between our boys and the Belgium side.
2. Going back to the first U.S. game against Ghana, and the manner in which we set out to protect a very small lead, I remember sitting in my barstool and thinking about all those games during the Joe Gibbs Part Deux era. So many Sundays were spent biting our nails as Joe Gibbs and his coaching staff desperately clung to 13-7, 16-9 and 17-10 leads. Game-planning decisions made on the fly were seemingly always made with a conservative bent. How many times do you remember the opposing offense being on the field in the closing seconds, trying for one last scoring opportunity before the final whistle? These were my thoughts as the USMNT absorbed Ghana's continuous attacks. Staying with the same era, when John Brooks scored that late game-winning goal, did anyone else think of Santana Moss going deep on the Dallas Cowboys for the win on that most amazing Monday Night Football game? I can't claim it was the first thing that went through my mind, but it absolutely was among the first five thoughts I had.
3. As the tilt against Portugal drew near, my biggest fear was that our style of play against Ghana would never work against the Portuguese team. Lo and behold, the American side utilized a completely different formation and style. The loss of Jozy Altidore dictated some of that, but it was clear that Jurgen Klinsmann was employing a strategy tailor-made for their opponents. Similarly, against Germany, we saw yet another formation and gameplan. Those who are savvy to the ways of the pitch know that there were many factors involved in each of these plans--against Germany, for example, we clearly attempted to play 90 minutes of defense and secure a draw. Still, the failure to adapt and change styles doomed traditional powerhouses in this tournament. The fact that the U.S. side was successful with multiple formations and styles is a real testament to the manner in which they prepared for this World Cup. (Wasn't it Italy that struggled mightily to change their attack mid-game?) How does that not make us think of the magic this organization had during Joe Gibbs' first stint? You can argue that he and his staff were the best at making halftime adjustments. We have argued this plenty. What about his willingness to go with Doug Williams for the playoff run back in 1987? He had only started one game in September and one game in November. Both games were losses, yet Williams was the player Gibbs tapped for the postseason, sending Jay Schroeder to the bench. Kind of a major decision...kind of a major factor in our run that year! I am not saying that Klinsmann is on the same level of Joe Gibbs (in my opinion) but he sure has shown a golden touch when it comes to the guys he puts on the field.
4. Even psychologically, so much of my pregame paranoia during this World Cup has mirrored those thoughts and feelings I wake up with during the fall and winter during the NFL season. None of us ever expects to lose. None of us believes our team has no chance to win. Like many recent iterations of the Redskins, the U.S. soccer team tends to enter their contests as underdogs. We all have to listen to "experts" discuss the many ways in which we are underprepared and undermanned. I also love the symmetry between the two teams in terms of there being that "one guy" on ESPN or some other outlet who plays the role of pumping up our chances. I feel like there is always at least one member of the top-tier national media that sticks his neck out and suggests that the Redskins are better than everyone else says they are. If you have been watching the World Cup coverage, there have been a few of those guys refusing to completely sleep on the American chances. It's comfy.
5. If you look at the last three times the Redskins qualified for the postseason (2005, 2007, 2012), just getting there required some rather miraculous circumstances. In 2005, we won our last five games to get to a 10-6 record. In 2007, we won our last four to get to a 9-7 record. In 2012, we managed 10-6 again, but only after winning our last SEVEN games. Man, those were some great rides. That experience rings in my head and my heart these days. For those that either don't know or don't care, the U.S. team was placed in what most of the world named the "Group of Death." Every World Cup has one, and the world soccer community was rather unanimous in its assumption that the Americans were not ready to emerge from such a group. Every Redskins fan should be capable of embracing a team that defied the odds to advance their championship hopes. Every Redskins fan should be capable of identifying with the euphoria stemming from doing something that plenty of smart people were sure was impossible. (Scratch that...we do have some British fans!) How could I not think of each of those deciding games at a time like this (Philly in 2005, and Dallas in both 2007 and 2012)? There's some real muscle memory going on in terms of feeling those same anxieties ahead of tomorrow's game against Belgium.
6. While I won't be confused with Phil Hellmuth or Phil Ivey anytime soon, I do enjoy a competitive game of cards. One rule I have always stuck to, and one that has saved me from losing countless stacks of chips: If you look around the table and can't see the sucker, it likely means you are the sucker. (I narrowly escaped a dealer game in Reno that formed around me after a 10-hour stint at the Hold 'Em table. Pretty sure they would have cleaned me out in about 17 minutes if I had stayed.) As Redskins fans, what do we do every summer? We look at the schedule and try and find the games we "should" win. Every team looks at their schedule and tries to find the suckers. For a long time, it was quite evident to me that the Redskins were the suckers that other teams were circling on their calendars. If NFL teams scheduled homecoming games, we would have easily played in four or five per year over the last decade. Things are a bit more wide open for us this year, but 3-13 teams don't always get the benefit of the doubt. Similarly, world powers have tended to circle the USMNT as the suckers when it comes to international soccer tournaments. I think it would be very fair to call the Americans the underdogs against Belgium, but the U.S. players are no suckers. Like most games that Redskins fans have watched in recent seasons, the United States-Belgium game is one where our team is "up against it." It will take more than just talent on the field to win. Victory will require the coaches to bring their best effort. Victory will require eleven men working together to be greater than just the sum of eleven men. Victory will require the legions of fans to direct all the positive energy we can muster to that field. As Redskins fans, we are uniquely prepared to support this team. As Redskins fans, we are uniquely weathered to endure what will likely be a cardiac arrest-inducing game tomorrow.
And in case you were wondering...yes...
I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!