A bet on the United States to win the World Cup would be foolish. Bookmakers give the American team, which plays its first match Monday night against Ghana, roughly the same long odds of winning the 32-team men’s soccer tournament as the New York Mets have of winning the World Series. But that doesn’t mean the US team isn’t going to try, or that it doesn’t deserve the nation’s support.
The American team has slowly improved over the last few decades, but every World Cup still revives the question: Can it be satisfying to root for a national team that, barring an unprecedented series of lightning strikes and bus accidents, has no shot at winning — and perhaps never will?
Some teams cultivate lovable-loser images, but happiness with anything less than gold is hardly the American way when it comes to international competitions: Consider the Olympics, where some athletes break down in tears of joy receiving a silver medal, but second-place gymnast McKayla Maroney famously grimaced on the podium in 2012. At heart, that’s the attitude that drove the fan backlash against German-born US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who has repeatedly said the team wouldn’t win the 2014 tournament.
Critics said Klinsmann was being defeatist and, worse, that casual American fans wouldn’t watch the games if they weren’t patronized with the customary happy talk from coaches beforehand. But fans should take Klinsmann’s words as a challenge instead: Learn to love the team now for the underdog it is. If someday it does win, it’ll only make the victory sweeter.