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July 3, 2014

U.S. loss on World Cup pitch was a win back home

The 2014 World Cup is over for America.

The United States was knocked out in the Round of 16 by Belgium, 2-1, in a match with extra time that was intoxicating and crushing.

The U.S. team was oh so close. That’s how sports go: One day you’re fighting for victory, the next you belong to history.

But, despite goalkeeper Tim Howard's remarkable performance, the game perhaps will be remembered not so much as a loss but for what it did for the future of the sport back home.

Did the U.S. team permanently plant soccer in the American psyche, or was our enthusiasm just a midsummer aberration? Were we watching history being made, or was it just a moment for histrionics?

It serves no purpose to offer a quick answer. But there did seem to be something different about our country’s reaction to a game whose provenance long belonged to those living “over there." For once, it seemed, U.S. fans were the ones adopting the established cultural and social ways of others, rather than exporting theirs to faraway lands.

For me, even at an advanced age and a soccer novice, watching was a strange experience. Probably like many others, I got excited by the fierce competition, even though I knew so little about the game, its strategies, rules or players. Surprisingly, not understanding what it means to be offsides or how substitutions work didn't keep me or other newcomers from enjoying the game.

Certainly nationalism was a big contributor to the crowds and interest. It was refreshing to see Americans rallying instead of squaring off politically.

It seemed easier to accept the free-spirit practice of face painting and wearing colorful garb, long practiced by supporters of other countries’ teams. And, most definitely, the U.S. fans' rhythmic chant of “I believe that we will win …” -- borrowed from the bleachers at the U.S. Naval Academy -- was a classic. The World Cup was pure fun.

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