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'Don't Tread on Me' credo sets wrong tone for USA

Clint Dempsey is a world-class player, it's time that he starts acting like he's earned that status and stop assuming that others believe otherwise.
Clint Dempsey is a world-class player, it's time that he starts acting like he's earned that status and stop assuming that others believe otherwise.

Yes, "Don't Tread on Me" is a slogan that is old as our nation. Yes, it has proven to be an effective political idiom. Yes, I might even acknowledge that it served a purpose during the maturation of U.S. Soccer.

Unfortunately, if we're looking for reasons that our national team keeps digging holes, I think a pretty strong case can be made that it starts here ... with the attitude that this simple slogan underwrites.

At its core "Don't Tread on Me" is passive-aggressive and defensive. It implies that others are intending to disrespect, or overlook, or, indeed, tread on the Stars and Stripes. 

The slogan, as it concerns the USMNT, is meant as a response to critics both within the country and outside its borders who presumably don't believe quality soccer is being played by our citizens.

Clint "Duece" Dempsey has been the poster child of the slogan, wearing boots with the those words emblazoned across them and starring in a rap video for a song he wrote called "Don't Tread." 

and we can tell from
the looks on their face
when they find out what the
dream is we chased
they hate
but we as a team
have a phrase we say when
negativity comes our way
don't tread on this

More recently this attitude was on display following USA's qualification for the semifinals of last summer's Confederations Cup. Following a 3-0 upset of Egypt, Michael Bradley had this to say:

"All the f***ing experts in America, everybody who thinks they know everything about soccer, they can all look at that score tonight," he said. "Let's see what they say now, all right? Nobody has any respect for what we do, for what goes on in the inside. Let them all talk now." 

The chip-on-the-shoulder thing can only carry you so far, though, and I think that it's also leading the Americans to undermine themselves. This obviously goes beyond a simple slogan, but I do think that USA's penchant for falling behind in games may be a result of the team's seeming infatuation with playing the underdog.  

This kind of "us against the world" mentality was acceptable for most of USA's soccer-playing history. It wasn't so long ago that Americans playing in European professional leagues was seen as some sort of oddity.

That is obviously not the case anymore. Just four of the players on USA's 23-man roster play domestically, with eight of the 19-internationally based players competing in what is generally considered the top professional league in the World (England's Premier League). For probably the first time in our history, numerous internationally based Americans were left off the roster. The world knows we play soccer, and knows we play it reasonably well.

While it may be true that many countries don't believe we "deserve" to win the World Cup, all recognize that we belong in South Africa and the days of teams overlooking us is long past (regardless of what "Daily Show" correspondent John Oliver may tell you).

As recently as four years ago, maybe playing with an assumed disrespect was a key component to USA motivating itself. But that attitude only gets you so far. Let's look at what happened the last few times USA found itself in a similar position as it does for Wednesday's virtual must-win against Algeria.

 

  • 1994: After tying Switzerland and beating Colombia, USA claimed control of its own destiny. Instead, they lost to Poland and needed help to qualify for the knockout round.
  • 2002: After scoring a massive upset of Portugal and tying host South Korea, USA headed into the final group-stage game with a very good chance to win the group. Again, they lost to Poland and, again, needed help to advance.
  • 2006: Needing nothing less than a victory over Ghana after gutting out a tie against eventual champion Italy, USA once again lost its final group game, eliminating any chance for advancement.

 

In all three cases, USA registered impressive results and could have secured a spot in the knockout stage with a win in its final group game. All three times, it entered the final game not as the underdog, but as a perceived equal or even favorite. All three times, USA fell short.

Recent results suggest the team thrives on being written off, but is not quite sure how to handle success.

 

  • Confederations Cup-Group Stage: USA lost its first two games and needed a blowout of Egypt and for Italy to be blown out by Brazil to advance. Twin 3-0 results sent USA through to the knockout stage.
  • Confederations Cup-Knockout Stage: After upsetting then No. 1-ranked Spain, and then building a 2-0 lead over Brazil in the championship game USA falls apart in the second half and loses.
  • World Cup qualifying: Poised to clinch the top CONCACAF qualifying spot, USA needed a road victory over Honduras to clinch. They proceeded to fall behind 1-0, storm back to take a 3-1 lead and then still needed a penalty kick miss by Honduras to ultimately secure the victory.
  • Pre-World Cup friendlies: Following a depressing run in which USA lost three of four friendlies -- including two losses on home soil -- USA fell behind Turkey 1-0 before breaking through for a 2-1 victory. They followed that up by falling behind Australia 1-0 and then winning 3-1.  

 

Even in this tournament, we can see similar tendencies cropping up. After USA garnered a tie against England -- seen by many as another breakthrough result -- they looked sluggish and ill prepared during the first half of the Slovenia match.

Regardless of the phantom penalty that erased what would have been am amazing comeback victory, the reality is that USA should have never been in position to need to erase a two-goal deficit. 

A similar performance against defensively sound Algeria would likely end in a far less acceptable result. 

The underdog thing was cute, but it's time is past. It's time for USA to start acting like it belongs and stop inventing reasons why critics should doubt them.

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