EDGAR ZUNIGA - Thursday, June 3, 2010
To the US Men's National Team:
First of all, congratulations. The 23 of you have earned the right to represent this great nation in the world's biggest sporting event and you deserve the admiration and respect of millions for getting this far.
As we chronicled here on Yanks Abroad, it was not an easy road to South Africa 2010. Despite what Eurosnobs and the "experts" might claim, CONCACAF is never an easy path to the World Cup.
It would be interesting to see how some of the best European teams would fare in hostile, humid environments like El Salvador's Estadio Cuscatlan, Honduras' Estadio Olimpico Metropolitan, Costa Rica's Estadio Ricardo Saprissa and, of course, the region's Mount Doom, Estadio Azteca.
If the physicality of the teams doesn't get to you, the ravenous fans do their best to strike terror into hearts everywhere.
But, playing in their posh stadiums and manicured fields, most European teams have no idea the hell that is CONCACAF qualifying.
So, yeah, you guys went through hell and there were a few bumps along the way. But, through it all, you carried yourselves with great aplomb and flew the US flag high and defiantly against all opponents.
And, although US Soccer hasn't designated a dedicated national team stadium (yet), the entire nation has become an impenetrable fort where all opponents come to die.
In the moments leading up to the game against England, you can be sure fans will raise their heads with great pride and feel the warmth of national fervor as they place their hands over their hearts during the singing of the national anthem.
If only more people across this great nation could experience the love and passion that so many already express so deeply for the beautiful game and the national team.
For so many of them, it's a love that transcends a local or college team and an appreciation for a group of humble and honest athletes that aren't arrogant, bitter or shun their fans.
Being on the US national team means that you're always under scrutiny (both from outside and within) and are time and again looked down upon.
It's one thing to be scorned by other soccer nations that still see US Soccer as a joke, but there are actually people living in the US–people that call themselves Americans–that spit hate for the team and the sport.
For many US fans, it's the same. Whether they be hardcore supporters like the American Outlaws or Sam's Army, who yell, chant and sing their lungs out.
Or curious first-time viewers of the World Cup, who suddenly find themselves with a tingle of national pride as they catch a World Cup game during lunchtime, they are also derided and insulted by others, who can't wait to see the US crash and burn in the World Cup.
But, you know what? Let them talk. Let them laugh. Let them puff their chests and yell ramblingly about how the US don't belong on the same stage as them.
Facing down all the naysayers has always been part of the mission of US Soccer and its growing fan base. The funny thing is that most of the verbal bashing comes from those that deep down inside are afraid of what US Soccer can become once the game grips the attention of a larger audience across the nation.
This country already has the resources and the grassroots talent. All that's needed now is a spark.
You are that catalyst.
You carry with you the hopes and dreams of an entire soccer nation. They have cried with you. They have bled with you. They have celebrated all your accomplishments and look forward to this World Cup with mix of anxiety and anticipation.
Nothing ever comes easy for this team and none of the other teams in Group C are going to just lay down. England wants revenge for 1950 and will do what it takes to avoid another loss against the bloody Yanks.
Slovenia slew the strong Russian team to get to South Africa and they will not flinch against the US.
Algeria not only took down the back-to-back reigning African champions Egypt, they weathered a storm of physical abuse from Egyptian fans in the process. They stood strong in the face of fear and prevailed.
Team USA, you have quite a task ahead of you.
Everyone knows that you're going to be the underdogs. Everyone knows that you're facing incredible odds. Everyone is aware that it will take more than grit and determination (a hallmark of US Soccer).
But, just because a team was forged from the fire of discord, just because a team tore down giants, just because a team claims to have invented the game...does not mean that the US cannot upset the establishment.
History is waiting to be written, gentlemen.
Bring the world to its knees!