In the final moments of the match between the United States and Belgium, Chris Wondolowski had a shot that would have given the Americans the win. There would have been no extra time. Tim Howard would have had fewer saves. The U.S. would be preparing to face Argentina right now. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
But he missed.
When he missed, the camera caught Jurgen Klinsmann on the sidelines with his hands over his mouth in a mixture of shock and horror. No doubt Wondo, he of the adorable Puss-In-Boots eyes, will have some post-traumatic stress dreams about that moment. He’s a good guy. He probably never expected to make a World Cup roster in the first place, let alone be put in a position to win a knockout game.
Afterward, he went on Twitter and basically gave a heart-wrenching apology to his country and his teammates.
I’m gutted to have let down everyone but especially my teammates. It’s been an incredible ride but I know this will make me stronger.
— Chris Wondolowski (@ChrisWondo) July 2, 2014
I wasn’t entirely surprised that he might say something like this, but what did surprise me was the response. Dozens upon dozens of replies saying things, like, “Chin up, Wondo!” and “It’s not your fault, we love you!” I didn’t see a single negative comment, though surely some jerks sounded off at him at some point in the evening.
Anyone who’s spent any time on Twitter knows that it can be a haven for anonymous horribleness, so I was initially glad that fans were, at least in general, being really supportive of a guy who already felt terrible.
But as soccer grows here in the States, is that the right mindset? Are we still treating our national team of competitive professionals with a “just happy to participate” mentality? Should we love our players unconditionally, or should we be a little more nuanced than that?
Earlier in his career as American coach, Klinsmann said that he envisioned a day when players might be harassed a little bit after a bad game, like he was when he was a player. Klinsmann envisioned a day when fans would care that much, when his players would be that well known, that they couldn’t go get groceries or to a restaurant without in some way (for better or worse) being reminded of who it is they’re representing and how well they’re doing.
I’m definitely on Team Wondo. I love how he keeps a spare letter “W” in his jersey as a good luck charm, reminding him of how the one time his name was spelled wrong on his jersey, he scored a hat trick. I enjoy how he jokingly named his six-month old daughter his PR spokesperson earlier in the tournament. If the shot had gone in, it couldn’t have happened to a better guy.
I’m not saying that Wondo deserves to be endlessly hassled for missing a shot, because at the other end of that spectrum is the England team being berated to the point of paralysis. There is a place in between the smiling soccer moms and the angry English tabloids. That’s the sweet spot we’re ready to find.