U.S. came up short once again at the World Cup. Here’s why it felt different this time

For those stuck at work or school, or perhaps just aware that the World Cup is about to start, Qatar banning Budweiser, the end result will evoke familiar feelings.

United States 1, Wales 1.

A tie. That’s it, a 1-1 equation? Another World Cup match, will it lead to an aging squad representing the United Kingdom part of Iowa (population 3.1 million), making their first World Cup appearance in 64 years?

It doesn’t inspire confidence, let alone attention. We have to be better than this. Points left on the table. Can be dried in Qatar heat. It was well known that one could start with the tired old trope that the United States would not be the best team until our best athletes played soccer, not basketball or football.

So, yes, skepticism is an understandable feeling considering the USMNT has won two World Cup games in the past two decades. There is no point in shouting about another tie and another international tournament out of group play.

However, if you watched the Americans on Monday, there was something different about this team and it was obvious.

Make no mistake, this was a bad result for the Americans, a disappointing result because they were the better team Monday, usually much better. They should have won 2-0, 3-0 and any real contender could have done that.

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American Christian Pulisic reacts to a 1-1 draw in the FIFA World Cup match between USA and Wales.  (Maja Hitij - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

American Christian Pulisic reacts to a 1-1 draw in the FIFA World Cup match between USA and Wales. (Maja Hitij – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Instead, the United States squandered a number of chances, squandered several impressive performances, and in the 82nd minute Gareth Bale was fouled in the box.

The U.S. should not have missed the goal or suffered regulation or stoppage time in the final 20 minutes.

He had to win.

does not. He will now step up the pressure for Friday’s game against a challenging England team.

And yet…

It was this particular American team that produced that very common result. The start of the game showed what this group of American players could be, should be, and could be.

They were brave. They were aggressive. They had extended their supremacy. This was a fast, young, exciting and attacking team. This 24-year-old Christian Pulisic has been showing every bit of the superstardom that was promised to him, and now the nation is watching.

This was a football team that spoke to the American spirit – confident and charismatic. Regardless of their technical expertise, it is a team that the country can muster.

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For too long, the United States has entered major international tournaments and played its heels, hoping to survive, hoping not to be humiliated, and then trying to explain away often boring and limited results. For a long time he felt hopeless.

Being bad is one thing, or at least the middle. Being boring and mean is another.

Stereotypically, there are two types of international sports for the average American fan: the good ones and the dumb ones. For limited success, the country is hardly resigned to being there.

This was not the case with Wales.

From the beginning, the Americans were on the affirmative side. They had better players, better possession, better pressure. They outdid Wales with youth and creativity and concentrated energy.

American Tim Wiha celebrates after scoring his team's only goal in the match between USA and Wales on Monday.  (Mark Atkins/Getty Images)

American Tim Wiha scored the team’s only goal in the match between the USA and Wales on Monday. (Mark Atkins/Getty Images)

It was Wales who were left trying to survive and praying for a counter-attack. They get the call they want and that makes them come alive. But they weren’t the better teams.

This is what you want style-wise out of US Soccer. It was everything American soccer fans have been begging to see. They should bring it for 90 minutes, they should be more consistent, but this was at least something.

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This country has a lot of kids playing the sport, a lot of great athletes, a lot of young talent in the major professional leagues, nothing but a brave, brave side. This is why that basketball and football cliché is so tiresome.

The US has always been athletic enough. Lionel Messi stands 5-foot-7. Neymar weighs 150. These are not plates full of LeBron James or Tyreek Hills.

Most of the time though, Americans don’t play like they usually do. Too often the group was naive, lacking the confidence, even if it wasn’t warranted, that the country could carry itself. Monday changed. Pulisic was his prime, a mega-talent with an unlimited motor. But it was more. Timothy Wiha scored in the 36th minute. Tyler Adams. Weston McKenney. Josh Sargent and so on.

It’s the same old, same old 180 from the boring, lifeless pre-Cup friendlies.

If they can get that, if they get into the playoffs, this could be a team that Americans can finally really root for. if so…

The US didn’t win on Monday because they almost never win a World Cup game. Even if they deserve it, they deserve it. They must have.

This alone is not enough. It should never be enough.

It was something different, though the results suggested otherwise.

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