Dispatches from a Casual World Cup Observer: June 21 – June 23, 2014
The 2014 FIFA World Cup is here, and I have a novice’s degree of knowledge as to what’s happening, as well as a small amount of sentimentality for the event. This is me traversing through work, drunken weekends, and Spotify with the World Cup either in the fore or background
Saturday, June 21st
I woke up on Saturday morning on the uncomfortable, green couch in my apartment. My throat was killing me and my head was heavy. I looked around the living room and two of my friends were both curled up in fetal positions on the floor. On the coffee table were three empty bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon, an open bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, a barren pack of Camel Blues and the controller to my roommate’s Playstation 3. I lifted myself off of the couch then stared at the mess that lay in front of me. I thought it best to settle into this hangover by playing Grand Theft Auto V because, of course.
My friends, reeking in beer and Cool Ranch seasoning, started to stir the moment I revved up the engine to my balding, psychopathic avatar’s vehicle of choice. Soon enough, they would wake up and start playing with me. Later, the suggestion was made that we should head to brunch. We went to a local diner called Dish where my friends all ate something that you could consider brunch-y while I dined on a black bean and rice burrito complete with a Mimosa. I was out of whack.
I left my two friends later to get my car washed and waxed at another friend’s house who runs a car detailing service out of his garage. Once I got there, storm clouds descended upon the gated community where my friend lives and the skies opened up. I decided to take a literal rain check on my car and have a few Coronas by his pool. A few of his girlfriend’s friends were in town and the subject of soccer came up after my friend got off the phone with another cohort who, instead of hanging out with us and the Calvin Harris Pandora station (ugh), was watching Germany v. Ghana.
“The hype is on for ESPN with soccer,” one of the new acquaintances said pejoratively. I found the comment rather reductive considering what I experienced in the preceding week. Sure, football will take it’s seat at the throne of cultural importance when the leaves change but there’s enough empirical data to suggest a greater interest in soccer within the United States than in previous years. There’s also a lot of condescending copy that’s been written about it as well. I don’t expect soccer to supersede the National Football League but it definitely has it’s legions of fans here in the States. I came up with this argument in my head while I, unlike my soccer-crazed friend, sat poolside not taking in the games that day. So, I was contributing to the problem of legitimacy.
Sunday, June 22nd
It was almost midnight and I couldn’t sleep. I had the same vision looping in my head. It was a ball headed by Portugal’s Silvestre Valera into the net past a frustrated Tim Howard. Howard knew he was too late to react so his body jumped in excitement without making an attempt to save. The brazuca Nike ball sailed into the net and was stopped by the back of the net. The score was 2-2. There were thirty seconds left in stoppage time and the end result of a draw was near. For someone who describes himself as a casual supporter of the USMNT, I sure as hell was having a hard time explaining this looping nightmare.
Witnessing the win against Ghana wiped away a deep seated strain of defeatism that has grown within me over years of disappointment. For years, statistical trends and historical records have dictated my predictions for my particular rooting interests. The win over Ghana more or less proved that, in sports, history is made to be broken. So, when the USMNT went down 1-0 after a Nani goal in the first half, I didn’t throw my hands up and wave the white flag. I didn’t commit a face palm while uttering “we’re gonna lose” and ordering another beer. Despite the fact that Portugal had won their past 11 World Cup games when leading, I had hope. Hope that the US would come roaring back. I bought into the official rally cry of the Yanks: I Believe That We Will Win.
A screamer from Jermaine Jones and a header from Clint Dempsey all but confirmed that my years of defeatism were all for naught. The US was going to advance and head to the Round of 16. We were going to exit the ‘Group of Death’ with maybe a scratch from Die Mannschaft. Then, Michael Bradley, with over 30 seconds left in stoppage time decided to take on one of the world’s best soccer players. The results proved disastrous as Cristiano Ronaldo dribbled around him and then lobbed a pass to Valera for the equalizing, final goal of the game. This was the USA’s Florida Evans moment.
I just began thinking about the comment made about soccer the day before and how ESPN was hyping up soccer. If the US didn’t get out of the group, there would be people like that guy who would have a ‘told ya so’ attitude about the validity of soccer as an interest in this country. When we don’t win, people like that guy will never see what’s so great about a game that I’ve started to build a greater respect. Winning changes everything but when you’re in Group G the chances of winning are improbable. For people who understand this, they can be proud of America’s accomplishments. For those who stubbornly refuse to see soccer’s rise in America, they will just use the ‘a tie is like kissing your sister’ status on Facebook.
Monday, June 23rd
I felt terrible on Sunday night and into Monday morning. Not a hangover but maybe something I ate at the mediocre pub where I watched the United States play Portugal. I decided to take a sick day and attend to any professional matters via my laptop from home. As a result, I watched the Netherlands and Chile go scoreless for almost the entirety of the game until Arjen Robben and Memphis Depay knocked in two very late goals for a win and a complete sweep of the competition in their group. Chile might want to rewatch a certain hype video before they head into the next round.
After playing an hour or so of GTA V in between answering work e-mails, I headed to my apartment complex’s gym to do a few miles on the treadmill while watching Mexico and Croatia. The game was a do or die situation for Croatia who had lost to Brazil, beaten Cameroon and now needed to win out against a never say die Mexican team who found a thriving pulse since their first game in Natal.
The game proved to be a hard hitting, scrap fest in the first half. There were dirty plays, illegal slide tackles and more than an English pubs share of spats. Both teams were out for blood. Miguel Herrera screamed and tore half of his hair out as is his custom whenever Hector Herrera and Rafa Marquez missed shots on goal. It was a battle of agony for both sides. Each side contorting their faces in frustration at each foul and missed opportunity. The game seemed destined for a draw given how low scoring La Verde had been playing. Even Fernando Palomo seemed a bit worn from the lack of scoring.
I walked away from the match to play even more video games. This summer, I have played more video games than I ever have in the previous three years of my life. Maybe it’s due to the fact that the Grand Theft Auto franchise is one of my favorites and this latest game is really, really, really amazing. Why watch a boring soccer match when you can cruise from a recreation of Koreatown to virtual California wilderness. This would prove costly as I missed three goals and three live opportunities to see Miguel Herrera have the most joyous rampage of his life. Three goals were scored and one of them was by Mexico’s “super sub” Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. The continuing narrative for Mexico has been one that has been too good to be true. A team that squeaked into the tournament has found themselves to be resurgent as they look ahead towards playing the Netherlands on Sunday, July 29th. Fuck video games, man.