Today’s article: “World Cup Pass & Move: The Boys of Summer,” Grantland Staff, Grantland
What a run. In a World Cup that many deemed hopeless before our players even got to Brazil, the USMNT scoffed at those pessimists and gave America what was, by all account, the most exciting stretch of soccer in our country’s history. Given the nation’s collective fervor these past few weeks, you wouldn’t have known the object of that passion won only one tournament match. That the team was more often than not the one getting its ass kicked, if not by score, than by any other imaginable measure. Because, after John Anthony Brooks took down eternal enemy Ghana, we realized the only that actually matters in soccer is the score. And after that first match, not a single good patriot could suppress the thought that, just maybe, in a game decided by such slim margins, our country could take down the perennial powerhouses that lay ahead. Especially with this group of players.
I wasn’t rendered immobile by despair after yesterday’s loss, as I’m sure many more serious soccer fans were, but damn did I feel pretty down. Not because I envisioned us winning the Cup if we could just top Belgium, but because watching the USMNT on Tuesday was so freakin’ fun. The entire match, I was almost wishing we wouldn’t score in regulation, just so I could be guaranteed an extra 30 minutes of Howardian acrobatics and Dempseyian craftsmanship. This was entirely new for me. I’ve been to Sounders matches before, and quite the opposite feeling, I’m usually checking my phone for the time 30 minutes in, mind lost on what I might get to eat on the drive home. And even in World Cups past, when I have been glued to my TV set, it’s almost always been with impatience, waiting for the Americans to win so that I can go on feeling good about the play of a few strangers who happen to have been born within the same arbitrary boundaries as myself. Tuesday, though, I just wanted to watch as much soccer as I could.
I said above that the past two and half weeks gave us the best soccer in our nation’s history. This isn’t something I posited from personal opinion, nor something I could ever be qualified to claim. Quite the contrary, soccer diehards more knowledgable than myself, and sports fans with more years than my 21 all told me this. Whether via 140 characters of wit or lengthy columns of contemplation, I could escape this lesson as of late: what I’ve been watching has been truly special. Why this was, exactly, I don’t know. The USMNT made it further in 2002’s World Cup. And Landon Donavon’s goal against Algeria was more euphoric than any we saw this time around. Yet, no past edition of the squad will be remembered with the same warm sentiment as this year’s. Maybe it’s because we escaped the Group of Death. Maybe it’s because we have cool new coach. Maybe it’s merely a result of Americans finally realizing over the past few years, hey, soccer is pretty cool.
Mike, I’ve mostly been rambling. The USMNT really did inspire a lot of emotions over the course of just four matches, and it’s hard for me to encapsulate that experience; as Brian Phillips wrote, “kaleidoscopes.” Pardon my vagueness, but give me your thoughts, on anything U.S. Soccer.
Yeah, man, that’s the crazy part: we only won one match. By the way the streets in Berkeley looked before the Belgium game — red, white and blue on everyone, a giddy energy in every passerby, lines spilling out of sports bars in the middle of the afternoon — you would’ve thought the USA was in the midst of a historically great run. But, nope, just a bit of overachieving and a good helping of drama. And maybe that’s what really seemed to grip people in this World Cup than in previous ones: every single game was jacked up to 11 with either dramatic moments or circumstances. There was the Brooks goal that you touched on that gave us the comeback victory over Ghana, and an almost identical situation against Portugal (albeit with a dramatic finish that was not as satisfactory). And although the Germany game was a bit boring, the circumstances to advance were anything but. The USMNT gave its nation a thrilling product in this World Cup, and if the World Cup gave the players anything in return, it’s that anyone who says their sport is “boring” from now on will be treated like an anti-vaccination nut.
Your sentiment about wanting the U.S. to win not just because of harbored hopes of a World Cup victory, but rather to keep the good times coming. We’ve touched on this in previous exchanges, but rooting on your country in this tournament is a once-every-four-years kind of thing, a truly rare occurrence, and by the end I found myself not desperately sad that we bowed out, but that the magic wouldn’t last for one more game, that I didn’t get to see the streets of Berkeley lined with drunk and giddy patriots in the middle of the afternoon. Every game was something to cherish, and I have to say that this team showed us a really damn good time.
And whose to say it won’t continue? I know it’s cliché at this point to be all “JULIAN GREEN DEANDRE YEDLIN BOUT TO BALL OUT IN 2018” but, seriously, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin are going to BALL OUT in 2018. And who knows who else will pop up. Yedlin, in particular, was exhilarating to watch. He was moving so fast on those right-side runs that it looked like he was teleporting from spot to spot. If a couple of Yedlin’s crosses are just a bit more on-point, we’re probably through to the quarters. You can trust that in four years, he’ll have that figured out.
And on a final note: Is it weird that, maybe, a tiny bit of me is relieved we’re out? I almost couldn’t take watching these matches, I got so stressed. The Belgium game was a bit different, because we were just getting our asses handed to us up and down, and we’d already made it through the group stage, but shit, I don’t know if my heart could have handled a quarterfinal match. And now we get to enjoy the final eight games of this awesome tournament without our heart dropping through our chest every time an opposing attacker makes a run up the middle.
I’ve probably missed on something, here, but whatever. Anyways, who are you rooting for the remainder of the World Cup?
I watched the match at a bar inside Cheney Stadium (for non-Mariner fans, that’s the home of their AAA affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers). The bartender tried fishing for tips by making endless laughy-comments about how soccer was stupid and she wanted some “real football.” Insufferable as this was, in the end I thanked the young lady for at least making my math easy: it’s not hard to calculate a zero percent tip. And funny you should draw an anti-vaccination nut reference, because I’m not so sure that group and soccer-haters are not just one in the same.
Also, if the “WHERE’S MY AMERICAN FOOTBALL THESE GUYS ARE PUSSIES” set of people is the most unbearable around this time, the “Yeah I’m American but my ancestors migrated from (insert U.S.’s opponent) five generations ago, so I’m rooting for them instead” set is a close second. Unsurprisingly, you won’t find a single person above legal drinking age in this group, because it’s something done for the SOLE purpose of drawing attention to yourself, and only the most immature of fucks would ask everyone to focus on them while the U.S. is playing a World Cup match. These people need to be shot. All of them. Before yesterday’s kickoff, someone I was watching with got a Snapchat from his friend, who was clad in Belgian colors, with the caption “FUCK THE FREE WORLD.” Oh, your great-great-aunt seven times removed lived in 19th-century Belgium? How cool! Now, come outside with me so I can give you what you deserve: a .50-caliber bullet.
Seriously, though, what’s the angle of those people? Because not for a second do I believe that they feel more connected to the country of relatives they never knew than the one in which they grew up. Oh, that’s right, their angle is going against the societal current. NOTHING MORE. What differentiates them from hipsters is absolutely nothing.
For the utmost ulterior motive, I’m rooting for the Netherlands. I’m going to Amsterdam soon, and will be arriving the morning of July 13th. That’s the day of the final match. Did you see the pictures of Amsterdam during last World Cup’s final? That’s called a party, Mike. I hope I remember my first day in Amsterdam as a Heineken-induced haze.
I want to end this on a USMNT note, as it could be a while before we next talk about them. Without further ado, some empty superlatives.
Tim Howard, your performance was legendary, and you now even rank above your relative Grizzly Adams on the list of greatest Americans.
Clint Dempsey, you broke your nose in the first match. I also once broke my nose. You live in Seattle. I also live in Seattle. I’d like to think we’re pretty similar guys, were it not for the fact you’re a world-class athlete in the most literal sense. Seriously, any time you scored this tournament, it gave me such boyish pride to think, “Hey, foreigners, Dempsey’s ours and you can’t have him.”
Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin, aside from the goal Julian scored, I haven’t the slightest clue what you guys did to make everyone so excited about the future. I really just don’t know how to assess soccer performance. But, from what I gather, you guys played great. There’s supposed to be more of that at the next World Cup. Based on what the smart guys are saying, I can’t wait.
Jürgen, your faux-sick notes probably got some people fired. At least you fielded a team that would’ve made it worthwhile. I can’t help but think you’re the most important sorcerer of this new magic surrounding U.S. Soccer.
To the USMNT as a whole, you guys rock. Memories of this World Cup will make the wait for the next all the more painful. Democrat or Republic, we can all agree: we don’t want four more years.
You guys truly united these states.