Diary of a Converted American Soccer Fan

I love these guys.

“Oh boy, I feel lightheaded. I think I need to take a seat.”

Those were the exact words I uttered when Chris Wondolowski shanked a golden opportunity that could have cemented himself not only in San Jose Earthquakes lore (Bay Area, standup!), but also that of American sports history. Way to go, Wondo. You had a chance at making that a WONDOful moment and making the Earthquakes the most known MLS team outside of — uhhhh…doesn’t matter. Now, you’re the butt of all the terrible puns. WondoLOUSY. WondoLOSER. Way to blow it, dude.

The entire match was kind of an eyesore. It was like watching your unpolished 10-year old child desperately trying to keep up with a team full of teenage all-stars. You know they’re trying their hardest, but sometimes heart just won’t overcome pure talent. They look overwhelmed and way over their head. It breaks your heart, and you wish you could do something to assuage the turmoil that’s transpiring on the grass. Roger Bennett of Men in Blazers* fame likened it to the  “Ewoks in the Battle for Endor.”

*Outside of my growing adoration for soccer and the US Men’s National Team, I have a new found love for the Men in Blazers. They are fantastic. What’s better than listening to two British ex-pats talk about how much they love US soccer? The answer is nothing. Absolutely nothing.

“‘I’m pretty sure this game has aged me about 20 years.”

At about the 80-minute mark, that was my response to one of my co-workers saying to me, “This is exhausting.”  It’s a weird feeling. We nervously sit and passively watch two teams running what looks like marathons, huffing and puffing, battling it out tooth and nail on the pitch. Yet somehow, after a good amount of time has passed, we’re the ones that feel extreme exhaustion. We feel drained. We feel about 20 years older.

The US were clearly dominated. There was a point in the game where a graphic appeared on the screen, and it showed the possession as Belgium 51% and US 49%. Another one of my co-workers yelled out, “Now that’s a lie.” It felt like the pitch was tilted on the US side for at least 3/4’s of the game. Despite the US defense being outclassed, American Hero Tim Howard stood solid the entire time further reinforcing his legendary status. (Oh Wondo, that could have been you. Legend.)

And still, even though it felt like the US weren’t going to make it out of Salvador alive, I just kept on telling myself, “It’s just ONE moment. They just need one.” The fact that they made it to the half at 0-0 felt like they escaped with a mild victory after being outmatched through the first 45. But I’ve come to learn how this game works. It doesn’t matter how crappy you’re playing or how great the other team is playing. All that matters is the score. If the score is still 0-0, there’s still a chance. And I was waiting…and waiting…and waiting for that chance to come.

As the clocked ticked away, I could feel my heart ready to pounce out of my chest, my breath was becoming shorter with every second gone, and my eyes started to blur because I was hardly blinking, lest I miss something significant. The Belgians chances were starting to become more and more dangerous, and it began to feel like it was only matter of time before they struck gold.

“One moment. Just one moment.” 

Every time Matt Besler made a great defensive stop or DeAndre Yedlin came up the right flank with speed, a little twinkle would appear in my eyes. As if maybe, just maybe that was the moment I was waiting for. But it wasn’t anything of consequence yet.

When the clock made it to stoppage time, and the match was still undecided, my heart was racing at a speed I couldn’t begin to describe. And when Wondolowski was sitting on the doorstep of the goal, I could see the future flash before my very eyes. THIS IS IT. THIS IS THAT MOMENT I WAS WAITING FOR……

And we all know what happened next.

“Thank god this thing only happens once every 4 years. The stakes are too high. I can’t handle this.” 

I said this on Tuesday because I literally felt like I was going to pass out*. But I really don’t mean it. If I could watch soccer at this high a level every day, I would be in 100%. But unfortunately, this thing only happens once every 4 years.

*I’ve mentioned this many times before on this blog, but I need to learn how to control my emotions when it comes to sports. I’m a sports fan year round, but there are a select few sports events that actually capture an extremely deep, irrational emotional investment from me. These include, but are not limited to: The Stanley Cup Playoffs, March Madness (when my brackets are in-tact by the Sweet 16), any Oakland Raiders game (which increases in proportion to the number of Raider wins per season), and the World Cup 2014 (and futures). I need help. Don’t judge me.

The thing is, I realize now I don’t have to wait for the World Cup to watch high quality soccer. But I’ve never cared to watch high quality soccer outside of the World Cup.

Until now that is.

I’ve been waiting for the moment when my interest in soccer finally reached its tipping point. It’s been creeping up on me for the past 8 years or so, but it’s never piqued my interest in totality. As bummed as I was the US got knocked out of the tournament, my attention is still very firmly glued to all the teams left. I’m pulling for Argentina (because I’m ready for Messi’s fellow countrymen to stop giving him a hard time), but I have Brazil winning my bracket (just for good measure). I’d like to see someone knock the Germans and Dutch out, and it would be quite a story if Costa Rica is one of those teams (CONCACAF!) Needless to say, I’m still awfully excited to see how the rest of the tourney pans out.

I don’t know everything about soccer culture, but I’m ready to learn. I’m excited to start paying more attention to the Premier League and La Liga. Last night, I was researching club schedules because I’m heading to London in September, and I’m hoping to catch an Arsenal or Chelsea match while I’m there.

I’m already watching the San Jose Earthquakes versus Seattle Sounders in August. My initial interest in going to that game was because it’s going to be the first professional game played at the brand new Levi’s Stadium. But now, I’m excited I’m going to see the likes of Captain America Clint Dempsey and wunderkind DeAndre Yedlin (along with our very own Wondo).

Recounting my US World Cup experience by writing about it in retrospect has acted as a sort of catharsis for me. Because while it depressed me to remember how let down I felt after Tuesday’s disappointing result, I realized the wonderful moment I was waiting for actually did occur — except it didn’t happen during the game.

When Full Time was called on Tuesday and I felt my stomach drop and I noticed I purposefully avoided any ESPN highlights for fear that I would get too emotional, I realized that moment already was happening. It’s been happening over the duration of the last 3 weeks as I fell in love with “the beautiful game”. The moment I was waiting for had finally arrived — it was the moment I became a soccer fan. A true American Soccer Fan.

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