To be a United States soccer fan is to have a thing for disappointment.
It's not the anti-American kind of disappointment that comes from never having a thought or a dream of something better. That kind of ongoing, numbing disappointment is deadened over time, like a cook's hands or the skin on a basketball player's feet.
To be a United States soccer fan is a sharp disappointment -- the pain much more like a coffee table to the shin or a stubbed toe. We can try to convince ourselves that this is the kind of agony that eventually builds character or teaches a lesson. Maybe it will. Maybe it will just hurt.
This disappointment is the kind of angry feeling. It takes a twinkle cackles of the heart of what makes you a fan. It takes desire, expectation, and faith in the first place, because you can't be let down so hard when you don't expect anything in the first place. It's a tantalizing kind of feeling that comes from a team that, like the country it represents, just wouldn't give up hope.
It would have been easier that way. If the team had not scored a late game-winner against Ghana, we'd all have an easy narrative, able to write the team and its German coach out of our consciousness for at least a while.
It would have been easier that way. If the team had not come back from a one-goal deficit to take a one-goal lead against Portugal, giving themselves a solid chance at getting out of the group of death.
It would have been easier that way. If a 19 year-old had just let me wallow in my losing misery and process and grieve for just a few minutes.
Instead, Julian Green came off the bench and scored a goal on his first touch of the World Cup, sending American fans roaring back into "we can do this" mode. The Bradleagles even had some real opportunities to tie it in the final five minutes sending American fans into a from a natural resignation that our team was out of it into a traumatic roller coaster of emotion that ended in the same place it started -- with the Americans eliminated.
"The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off." - Gloria Steinem
If you're looking for other reasons to be pissed, try this one -- Belgium was beatable. Actually, this is a year a fringe team without World Champion pedigree like the United States could have actually done something fun. The play has been wide-open, the goals have been plentiful, and very few defenses look anything close to impenetrable. Costa Rica is in the quarterfinals. So are German and Belgian teams the United States had a run at.
What about Landon Donovan? I respected Klinsmann's decision to keep him off the team. Rumors of Donovan not being as fit and committed have surfaced since he was left off the team. I always assume that, as the coach, Jurgen must know something that I don't. What I do know, though, is that Donovan has proven to be able to keep his composure through physically demanding settings and that his creativity would have been an improvement on Graham Zusi, Brad Davis, or Alejandro Bedoya.
For a United States team that needed a spark, Donovan could have helped keep other guys closer to their actual positions and possibly done better. I'm not second-guessing Klinsmann's decision, but I think fans will always be left to wonder whether anything would be different had Landon been on the roster.
One thing I think Klinsmann has done is to speak whatever truth is the current truth. Fans and players live in the past. Jurgen seems to always be trying to get better for the future. Laurels are not rested on. There is no sense of entitlement any longer. Jurgen is speaking a truth, even if it's pissing people off.
"I think they all went to their limits. They gave everything they had," said Klinsmann after the game.
Maybe so. Maybe we did all right this time around. The United States advanced farther than England, Spain, and Portugal in this World Cup, which is saying something. Uncle Sam made it almost as far as he ever has in the modern era of soccer. So, why do I still feel like we missed such an opportunity? Why do I have this shitty knot in my stomach about it still, three days later?
Maybe this is what the progress of soccer in this country feels like.
You can view more of Owen's work on www.fansmanship.com.