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FIRST-PERSON: Saying goodbye to Team USA

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (BP)–I was a little torn. As an American who’s lived much of my life in Africa, I wanted Africa to do well in the World Cup tournament in South Africa. I was disheartened when only one of six African teams qualified for the second round of competition, but so proud of Ghana for going forward.

But in my heart, it was USA all the way. Nothing compares to that feeling of walking up to a stadium, toting the “Stars and Stripes” and chanting “USA!” alongside strangers with whom you feel a sudden sense of camaraderie simply because they, too, speak “American” and look like fools in their red, white and blue face paint.

So when the U.S. qualified for the round of 16 after Landon Donovan’s last-minute goal against Algeria, my husband, a friend and I immediately went online in search of tickets for their match against Ghana in Rustenburg. I wanted to be there to cheer them to victory, to possibly watch history being made. I, like most other Americans, was determined our boys would make it at least to the quarterfinals.

Even though they didn’t, it was still amazing to be there. The majority of the crowd was pulling for Ghana, but in my (admittedly biased) opinion, we and the Americans around us were the loudest, most passionate sections in the stands.

We watched the match from standing positions, like real soccer fans should; we belted out the national anthem at the top of our lungs, even the pitchy, hard-to-sing parts; we chanted repeatedly, “Yes, we can!” and “Go, USA!” We shouted in frustration when our team missed shots; we jumped up and down wildly when Landon Donovan made the penalty kick.

Our team had become quite adept at pulling off last-minute miracles, but after Ghana scored a goal in the first half of overtime, I resigned myself to the fact we were probably going to lose. Our team fought hard, but they couldn’t pull it off. After the match was over, we lingered till the last player left the field, hoping they’d see our flags and know we were still behind them.

The day before the match, U.S. forward Herculez Gomez, who played during the overtime portion of the game, posted this on his Twitter account: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps — Proverbs 16:9 See you in Rustenburg.”

I appreciate Gomez’s perspective. I’m not really one of those fans who prays for a team to win a match (although during the USA vs. Slovenia game I was sorely tempted). I figure God knows who the victor should be and is probably more concerned with how the win or loss shapes the character of the individual athlete than with how it makes a fan happy or devastated.

There are several followers of Christ on the U.S. men’s national team. During each game I’ve prayed for them, that they would walk with integrity whether it be in “the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.”

In the midst of this defeat I’m hopeful. Hopeful that in four years, our team will do better. Hopeful that soccer and the World Cup will continue to increase in popularity in the U.S. Hopeful that Ghana will give Africa her “glory story.” Above all, I’m hopeful that men like Gomez, Tim Howard, Clarence Goodson and other believers on the U.S. team will use their fame as a platform to share the hope they have in Christ.

So goodbye for now, Team USA. You may be leaving the World Cup stage, but you’ll be in our hearts for a long time to come!
Melanie Clinton is a writer and editor with the International Mission Board who has lived and worked in five African countries.

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