Pressure Makes Us
When I lived in Japan, I was lucky enough to be present for the 2006 World Cup. Having met Japan’s goalie, Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, in 2005, I was a huge fan of the team and enjoyed many Jubilo Iwata soccer games during the regular season. During the 2006 World Cup, met up with my J-friends and cheered in unison with everyone else wearing samurai blue. I even woke up at 4am for a couple games, also the final, even though Japan wasn’t playing.
During World Cup mania, my students would often ask me, “If Japan and US are in the final, who will you cheer for?” (Actually, they asked this more in the form of our classroom English, “Do you like Japan team or USA team?”) My response was always, “I like both.” They understood that I am American, but have a deep love for Japan and my J-peeps. Japan made me a FIFA fan.
During the men’s World Cup last year, I watched several matches, as Vietnam is a soccer crazy country and most games were televised at the Press Club, where I worked and all over Hanoi. As I watched Japan play, I wore my official blue jersey in support and jumped for joy when they beat Denmark and shed a tear when their run ended against Paraguay. The team advanced further than they ever had and I was tremendously proud. My friends in Japan emailed me often through the tournament to check if I was cheering for Japan. I also gathered with lots of my mates for an England match along with my fellow expats (USA matches weren’t always shown). I was equally bummed when the US did not pull off a win against Ghana, ending their enthusiastic run. I was happy for Spain, in the end and enjoyed watching that country celebrate its victory (and secretly wished I could be there to join in the fun!)
On Sunday, I was excited for the game, yet I was really conflicted as to who to cheer for. In all honesty, I wanted both teams to win. Both teams had put up a good fight to get to the final and both teams had equally compelling stories as to how meaningful the win would be for them. My heart was torn.
I was online during the game, tweeting and chatting with other friends on Facebook at crucial moments of the game. With the ESPN announcers writing off the Japanese after the US scored their first goal, I found myself pulling more for Japan than for the US. How can you write off any team with almost twenty minutes left in the game? The online sentiments were about the same… looked like the USA was going to pull off the win. And I found I kept shaking my head with the resounding over-confidence of the US.
We all know what happened in the game. US took more shots and Japan played heavily on the defensive. Yet, at the end of play, the score was tied. And at the end of extended play, the score was tied. To me, that does not mean that the US handed Japan the game or that the US deserved to win. The game was tied. The score was even. And at the end of the day, Japan blocked penalty kicks and landed more in the net to win the game in a shoot out.
What followed the game was a long list of sentiments that rang to the tune of “The US should have won that game.” All I could think of is, “Why?” @NikeWomen even tweeted “The Toughest Losses Make The Strongest Teams. Incredible effort by #USWNT. Congrats, Japan. #PressureMakesUs.” Was even Nike saying that the US was the better team and that somehow the loss makes the US the stronger team? Notice the order of the comments…Nike couldn’t even begin with a congratulatory note. (BTW – there has been nay a tweet from @NikeWomen referring to #PressureMakesUs or Japan’s win/USA’s loss since the above post-game tweet, instead moving forward with a #MakeYourself campaign.)
In a San Diego forum, a comment read: Am I the only one who realizes that Japan did not deserve this win, they did nothing for it, the US gave it to them. Should have been 4-1 US by the end of it all. Stupid luck was all it is.
Really? So it was sheer luck that got Japan to the finals? Did they just bypass all the qualifiers and semi-final matches and magically appear in the final? Or did they work just as hard, play just as tough and earn, just as much, their spot in the final game? Japan’s final game strategy may have been different than America’s but ultimately, Japan scored more goals. Ultimately, Japan won the game. “Deep down inside, I really thought it was our destiny to win it,” Carli Lloyd said. “But maybe it was Japan’s.” Even US players had to attribute their loss to something greater than Japan’s or their own abilities. You would be hard pressed to find comments from the Japanese players stating that they felt they deserved to win or it was the team’s fate to be champions.
One of the biggest factors of culture shock in returning to the US is to see, hear and feel the ego of America. There is nothing wrong with patriotism, except when it borders on arrogance. Hubris is never cool, never sexy, and never results in the win. The US team and supporters could do well by being happy for Japan, by genuinely congratulating them on their win and most importantly, maintaining a winning attitude. Nobody likes a sore loser. Is that what pressure makes us?