As a huge soccer fan, I was ecstatic about the U.S. National Team's 2-1 victory over Ghana Monday. As an American, I was struck even more by the words used by the players, commentators and others to describe the win: grittiness, grinding it out, gutsy, and resolve. Such words not only reflect the U.S. team's play, but our national character. It is this very character that we must now tap into in order to make progress on our challenges at home.
The national team's win is a perfect civic parable for our country at this time. Ghana beat the U.S. in the last two World Cups. In 2010, it was a heart-breaking overtime loss. This time, the U.S. came into the game as the clear underdog. But the team did not cower in the face of Ghana, nor did it sit back; it struck. A mere 34 seconds into the first half, forward Clint Dempsey scored to put the U.S. ahead.
Another 89+ minutes remained. And adversity came quickly to the U.S. team. Jose Altidore, the vaunted U.S. striker, went down with a strained hamstring. A young substitute named Aron Johannsson, with little experience at this level, took his place. At halftime, Matt Besler, a key defenseman, was pulled from the game with an injury. Again another young substitute, Anthony Brooks, came on to play. When members of the team fell down, other players stepped forward.
Even as the national team got back on its feet, the Ghanians turned up the heat. Their relentless attacks put the U.S. team back on their heels for much of the second half. But the U.S. team was undeterred and resilient, withstanding the onslaught even as they were outplayed.
But their luck finally broke. With just eight minutes remaining, the Ghanians scored to tie the game and firmly grabbed the momentum. It was as if throughout the U.S. one could hear a collective gulp: here comes a repeat of 2010.
Amid the heightened pressure, the U.S. team kept plugging away. They would bend but not break. With just minutes left, Graham Zusi, yet another substitute, took a corner kick and the 21-year-old Brooks headed the ball into the back of the net. A gutsy, stubborn and sometimes not-so-pretty team performance landed a U.S. victory.
Today, many Americans say the country is on the wrong path. They want to know how we can move forward together. The story of the U.S. team Monday night reminds us just what it takes to get on the right path: people coming together with a sense of common purpose and setting a common goal. When they fall down, they dust themselves off and find a way to keep moving forward. Then, when things go wrong, they recalibrate. And when certain individuals must step away, they pass the baton to others who are willing to step forward.
Throughout all this, people persevere. They realize they must be resilient – willing and able to bend, but not break. And when they achieve their near-term goal, other longer-term goals push them to keep moving ahead, together.
As Americans, we are builders. It's part of our DNA, central to our character. The U.S. national team demonstrated the meaning of this last night. And it reflects back to us something we already know but sometimes forget or push aside: we must tap our collective character to move this nation forward. What I know from my long experience working in communities across the country is this: Americans want to be builders again.