Like so many things in my life, it comes back to the Mighty Ducks.
In the final film of the trilogy, D3, the Ducks are competing as a prep school JV team, and in their first game of the season they take a nine-goal lead only to completely fall apart, surrendering a last second goal to tie the game, 9-9.
Their old coach and mentor Gordon Bombay has moved on and they haven’t yet gained the respect of the new head coach, Ted Orion. After the game, Orion furiously storms into the locker room where the players are arguing over who should take blame for the collapse.
“How long does it take to score a goal?” he screams before hurling a puck at the board on the far wall, forcing each and every petrified player to dive out of his way.
“Less than a second!”
It’s hard see United States men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s laid-back demeanor producing a coaching style like that of Orion’s, but it must have been a sentiment he was feeling as well. His U.S. team were a whisker away from not only a win, but a ticket the World Cup knockout stage, only to concede a late equalizer against Portugal.
Instead of being able to take it easy in their final group game against world powerhouse Germany, the Americans have everything to play for.
When I sat down to put the draw in context, I felt slightly better about the disappointment of coming so close to pulling out the win. We could be in Ghana or Portugal’s position. But the fact is, the U.S. weren’t just seconds away from a great win, they were seconds away from a seismic victory in the game’s history in this country.
The U.S. responded brilliantly to the going behind six minutes in, taking the game to Portugal in a way we didn’t see at all during the Ghana game. After continually knocking on the door, the U.S. got not only an equalizer, but also a go-ahead goal from Clint Dempsey with less than ten minutes to play.
The records were about to be broken. Never before had a U.S. team conceded the first goal and gone on to win a World Cup game. Never before had Portugal scored the game’s first goal and gone on to lose. And not since 1930 had the U.S. team won both of their first two group matches.
So what could I think about instead, to not only make me feel better but to also give me belief for the Americans’ final game? The Mighty Ducks might’ve been a personally easy decision, but as I thought about it more I began to see some similarities.
When it comes to drama the Ducks, nicknamed the Minnesota Miracle Men, always had a way of ending things with flair. Even when history and their opponents seemed to be getting the better of them, they simply never quit.
On Sunday, those Hollywood endings were about to be usurped by the Manaus Miracle Men. Dempsey’s goal to give the U.S. the lead wasn’t quite a “knucklepuck” by a disguised Kenan Thompson, but it was probably the most dramatic turn of events in the real world. It all made sense.
That’s when Orion’s aphorism came into play. What you do for 94 minutes is great, but if you choose to switch off for the last play, you will be punished.
There are other ways this U.S. squad reflects some of aspects of that fictional team.
Those Ducks of Orion’s early days weren’t unlike the Americans of just over a year ago. In the wake of a World Cup qualifying defeat to Honduras, the Sporting News ran a story detailing how many of the U.S. players were not exactly jiving with Klinsmann’s message.
Orion unsettled his players in search of a singular goal: to take a talented team and attempt to remove the complacency they had begun to have. Klinsmann was trying to do the exact same thing.
The Ducks and Orion became one cohesive unit once they saw him as something other than a heartless manipulator on an ego trip. For the U.S. team, their perception of Klinsmann changed when the wins started piling up. Immediately after the article was published the team went on an unprecedented winning run, qualifying for the World Cup and playing some terrific soccer along the way.
Now they’ve come to the World Cup. Their opening win against Ghana showed they have the grit, determination, and undying appetite to succeed at this level. The Portugal match saw them display the very same qualities, only to fall into an easy trap just before the job was finished.
So it comes down to a do-or-die match against Klinsmann’s native Germany on Thursday. A point is all the U.S. need to advance, but it’ll take another gargantuan effort to get there.
In D3’s finale the Ducks face off against their tormentors, the Eden Hall varsity squad. Ever since the Ducks enrolled, the varsity had constantly belittled their achievements. Spurred on by that disrespect, they manage to pull off a victory, confirming their status as a team of the highest order.
If the U.S. are to do the same – as they almost did against Portugal – they’ll need that same spirit to overcome the team that denied them a World Cup semi final place just 12 years ago.
You always knew the Ducks would get it done when they needed to, now can the U.S.?
We’ve all believed before, we might as well continue to. Quack, quack, quack.