This team's story is uniquely American, is it not?
A group of 23 young men whose stories couldn't be any different, whose ideas of being an "American" are likely just as varied, have come together to beat the odds and silence doubters. Doing what England, Italy, and Spain couldn't, this team escaped the group stage against long odds. They got revenge on Ghana, disappointingly drew Portugal (a disappointment which can only exist in hindsight, because that was a best case scenario for this team heading into this contest), and avoided embarrassment against powerhouse Germany. They advanced out of the "Group of Death," and reminded the rest of the world that we were, in fact, one of the reasons that the group earned that moniker in the first damn place.
They did that without any real superstar on the squad. None of these American players are likely to be found on anyone's "top 100 footballers" list, as many of them are incredibly inexperienced, none of them have had stellar European careers, and many of them play in the bastard-child league that is the MLS.
But this team didn't need superstars or fat contracts from Bayern Munich. They didn't need a Ronaldo or a Neymar. They utilized blind optimism, relentless effort, and teamwork to get this far. They made plenty of mistakes along the way, and didn't avoid their fair share of disappointing moments, but they got the job done. They've made us proud, because they've characteristic American-ly accomplished an uncharacteristically American feat.
The Belgians, on the other hand, are littered with European stars with fat Premiership contracts. That said, they've been rather disappointing, particularly on the attack, for the whole of the World Cup. It's tough to call a team that won every group stage match a "disappointment," but squeaking by each of their opponents by only one goal, all of which were scored late, isn't something that a top-10 side like Belgium should be doing against the likes of Algeria, Russia, and South Korea. That has to give us hope today, that we can once again in the face of seemingly long odds, fight our guts out en route to an upset. In short, we have to play our oddly American style of soccer all over again. If we do that, we've undoubtedly got a shot.
This afternoon, at 3:00 PM Central, the United States takes on Belgium in both teams' opening contest in the World Cup's knockout stage. The game is broadcast on ESPN and Univision. Win here, and advance to play the winner of Argentina/Switzerland. Lose, and go home with a few good memories and a lot of "what ifs."
I, a product of the same sometimes silly American optimism that brought this team this far, believe that we will win. I have no other choice at this point. But if we don't, I know that, at the very least, we'll give the Belgians 90 minutes of Hell.