1988 OLYMPICS WAS WATERSHED FOR U.S. MENS SOCCER
By Tab Ramos
The following article is taken from the U.S. Department of State eJournal USA, “The Olympic Experience.”
You Lose a Lot of Games to Get There
In 1988 the United States was certainly not recognized as a soccer nation at all. Those of us on the Olympic team, we were trying to earn respect everywhere we went. It was so difficult because anywhere we went, everybody thought the U.S. was supposed to be a last-place team.
When we arrived at the Olympics in Seoul, we were drawn into a very difficult group for the first round. Argentina was one of the teams, one of the world powers in soccer for 70 or 80 years. The Soviet Union was in our group; they ended up being the gold medalist, so obviously they were the strongest team. Then South Korea was in our group, and they were the home nation.
If anything, we were expected to lose all three games, so the pressure was off of us a little bit. When you are not expected to do anything, it’s a little bit easier to play. But at the same time we felt like we wanted to prove something. I remember we took the field the first time against Argentina. Actually Argentina was very lucky. They tied us with two minutes left in the game, 1-1, a game we had been winning since the first half. So we almost pulled that off.
Then we played the host South Korea in the second game, and I believe we tied 0-0 in that game. So here we are going into a third game against the Soviet Union. We knew they were very strong, and they had some professional players obviously. We ended up losing a pretty good game, 4-2, to the team that eventually took the gold medal.
We were eliminated at the group stage, so we didn’t make it into the semifinals. We didn’t advance into the medal round, but it was a good showing for us. That was the first time U.S. men’s soccer competed strongly at a high international level.
Even though we didn’t win anything, we left there knowing that we’d done our best and that we helped U.S. soccer step up a notch.
We went as a bunch of athletes that no one knew, playing against soccer stars from other countries. We absolutely did our best. We knew we had given it all we had.
That’s a good lesson to remember in sports and in life. I keep it in mind with my own children, who are playing soccer now, and with the other kids I coach. I think the greatest goal is to do the best you can. That’s all you can ask of yourself.
I played in a team sport, so I can only do the best I can to help my team win. At the end of the day, if that’s not good enough, well, that’s not really a big difference between winning and losing the game. As long as you’re doing what you can to help your team, then you should be proud of that.
There are plenty of kids who will be growing up in the next few years who will hope to be in the Olympic Games, or on the U.S. Olympic team, who will just not make the team. That will have nothing to do with them not trying hard enough. It will have to do with them not being talented enough to be there.
Winning is obviously something everybody wants, but unfortunately there’s only one winner. Everybody else loses. After a long career in soccer, there’s one thing that I always tell the kids I coach now. “I’ve lost more games than you will ever win,” I always tell them. That’s something that really sticks with every athlete who has made it to a high level. You’ve lost a lot of games to get there, and you’ve lost a lot of big games to get there. That doesn’t need to make you fall apart. That’s the fun of it -- to make yourself try harder the next time.
To tell you the truth, I don’t like to lose, even at board games, so I’m not saying you should like to lose. But you need to learn how to succeed after loss, learn that you are not going to win all the time, but you still keep trying.
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Updated: July 2009