The United States Men’s National Soccer Team had one of the most exciting finishes you’ll ever see in sport yesterday, scoring in stoppage time to win 1-0 and gain themselves a berth in the knockout stages of the 2010 World Cup.
Many, many Americans are, like me, absolutely ecstatic about the result, and are eager to see our boys play at least one more game in the world’s largest sporting event.
However, many others in the USA could honestly care less about the World Cup, or soccer in general. I’m not here to admonish or scold those people for “not getting it,” or offer any similarly insulting sentiments. Rather, I’d like to explain what it is that makes me personally love the World Cup.
Millions of Americans played soccer as youths, only to shun it for baseball, football, and basketball as they grew up. I am not one of these folks. Soccer has ALWAYS been looked down upon in my family; soccer players were, and still are, “foot fairies” to my father, so no son of his was going to be playing that weird game where hands are useless and prohibited. No, my interest in the most popular sport in the world wouldn’t start until the 2006 World Cup.
Looking for something to do as the Orioles suffered through what was then their ninth straight losing season (those were the days, eh?) and with Ravens’ training camp still six weeks or so away, my friends and I decided to go “all in” on the World Cup. We bought face paint and applied it like old pros, and headed out to James Joyce Irish Bar & Restaurant in Fells Point to watch the matches with some seasoned and authentic “football” fans.
The author in 2006
At James Joyce, we had more fun than I could have ever anticipated. We met people from all over the globe – Englishmen and Irishmen, a Belgian, and some second generation Italian-Americans. The electricity in the bar rivaled that of anywhere I’ve ever been for a Ravens game short of M&T Bank Stadium. I was even taught of a drink I had never heard of, called a Snakebite (half cider, half Bass – I think).
I was hooked.
Despite the US team making an early exit in that World Cup, I continued to follow every match, randomly picking teams to root for all the way through to the Italy-France final.
And after that, my soccer fandom went on a 4-year hiatus. No, I didn’t get into the DC United or start following the English Premier League, although I can easily see the appeal in either. Remember, the title of this isn’t “Why I Love Soccer,” its “Why I Love the World Cup.” I by no means consider myself a “knowledgeable” soccer fan. I can name a good part of the U.S. roster, and a star or two from a handful of the other teams, sure. But I also find that every 4 years now I have to re-teach myself the offside rule (especially when it’s being applied as liberally as it is in this World Cup. Also, it’s perfect for a Ravens fan when it seems like the referees are hell-bent on screwing over our team in this sport, as well).
Here in 2010, the ride has been even more exciting. My girlfriend and I had the good fortune to be down in New Orleans, LA for the U.S. team’s first match, against the mighty English. For several weeks before our trip, we researched the best places to watch the Cup in N.O., and we kept coming upon this bar called Finn McCool’s Irish Pub. McCool’s is, evidently, where all the local expatriates go to watch international soccer, rugby, cricket, or whatever else it is they play across the pond (competitive tea drinking?), and they have their own football (soccer) “clubs” that play locally. Seemed perfect.
And was it, ever.
They had outdoor seating set up with a large projection screen.
I heard from one fellow that he got there at 9 AM and there wasn’t a seat to be had at the bar.
There was a nice lady set up painting faces for tips.
There was abundant chanting and impromptu versions of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “God Bless America.”
I partied with THIS guy:
Shit, I even met an Orioles fan from New Orleans (his sister moved up here about 7 years ago, and since there is no team down here, he went with the Birds; poor guy), and we spent a few minutes discussing their ridiculous ineptitude.
And, the kicker: there was a full charter bus of Englishmen (and women) there to watch the game, their bus all decked out in Union Jacks and English flags (you can see the bus in the background in the above photo). One of the dudes on the bus came out dancing and was wearing chain mail around his head and neck, like a medieval knight. Awesome.
Unfortunately, for the next two U.S. matches, I was stuck at work, trying to follow online. On the bright side, because of Donovan’s aforementioned “golden goal,” the U.S. lives to play on, and will meet Ghana in the knock-out stages on Saturday.
A common sentiment among soccer-haters here in the homeland is the annoyance with the low, low, scores. Sure, there are a lot more 0-0 ties in international soccer than you’ll find in say, NFL football. On the other hand though, when you think about it, the average NFL score of 21-17 is actually only, in reality, 3-2.5. The best argument I can give against that feeling of “not enough scoring” though, is that, when that goal finally DOES come…the party is on. Especially when you are into extra time and the ref can blow his whistle at any moment to end the game…and your team’s run in the tournament. Seriously, check out some of these videos from around the country of Donovan’s goal, and tell me you wouldn’t have wanted to be there:
If you can’t agree that a moment like that captures all that is great about sports…again, like I promised, I won’t say “you don’t get it,” but I will say this: I don’t get YOU.
As far as my dad, he still says he’d “rather watch the grass grow,” so if you’re unconvinced, I know you’re not the only one.
Those of us that do love it though, will be in full frenzy mode Saturday at 2:30, when Donovan and the rest of the U.S. team take on Ghana in what amounts to the “Sweet 16″ of the World Cup.