Because Willy Clinton is Hyped
America loves the comeback.
by Colin Powers
I was a little leery in the early minutes of USA-Algeria. After quick, half-hearted attempts at shaving and ironing, respectively, my brisk walk turned to a disinclined jog (no excessive knee bending) as I raced down to a posh waterfront hotel for a viewing party of Team America, Fuck Yeah. My buddy called me about a half hour prior to after finagling his way to an extra ticket for yours truly, and informed our handsome protagonist (me) that I’d need to find myself somewhere along the formal-casual spectrum for this little shindig. Though I missed a couple upper cheek whiskers, I calmly walked in to the hotel atrium with swag stymied only by a touch of behind-the-knee sweat. Avoiding any swamp effect in the armpit area, my Cunningham scramble had made the most of a broken play, and I felt relatively nice (only relatively nice because I’m a neurotic over-thinker to begin with).
A fairly serious contingent of Americans had assembled at the hotel, a mix of business folks and soccer folks and random American ex-pat Cape Tonian folks. Newcomer in a locale where I felt compelled to wear khakis, I nursed my first beer in assuming that to be the social norm of people dressing-up to watch sports. Despite the surface level bourgeois scene, the atmosphere was humming; the people who know fuck-all about soccer contributed genuinely funny one-liners about things not quite of enough consequence for me to remember (I do remember they were funny, though), and the people for whom soccer is their livelihood pushed conversation in to the interesting and informative. As I had prepped for the exchanging of pleasantries, generalities, trivialities, comments on the weather, discussions of how pretty the city is, sharing of generic hopes for the USA, and other empty fillers for space, this was a nice surprise.
The match kicked off with American defenders doing their best to continue the narrative of redemption which has defined our team’s Cup thus far. Their startling early ineptitude provided the Algerians with chances that Cherundolo & Co. perhaps hoped would make the 2022 feature film reproduction of the tournament even more drama filled (starring the actor who plays Matt Saracen from Friday Night Lights as Mr. Cherundolo. He’s a ringer). ‘Backs against the wall, strangers in a foreign land, facing off against Muslims who, despite having no connection whatsoever to terrorism, could be portrayed that way for the sake of our movie.’ Anyway, we were quite close to finding ourselves in another hole from which we could climb out of in cathartic fashion by match’s end. Rafik Djebbour rang the cross-bar pretty good, but whatever, America loves the comeback.
I finished my first bottle and discreetly placed it down, doing my best to distance myself from any residual college guy appearance. I’m 24 but when somewhat clean-shaven still don’t have a prayer of looking old enough to play a high schooler on TV. As it is sometimes difficult to be taken seriously in the professional sense with boyishness still so profuse, I often try my hand at what might be conceived as ‘mature’ behavior. I told the waiter, ‘I’m OK for now’ when he came by to grab the empty, and turned my attention back to wonderfully open, back-and-forth contest on the telly. Confident I could only have handled the situation better had I been wearing a cardigan along with Nantucket red pants, I was pretty pleased with myself. But with my attention directed back at Jozy commanding the action and his relentless pressing on the defense, from my peripherals I notice the other dudes lining up another couple fingers of tequila. My hombre grabs a fresh Peroni with the right hand as he empties another with the left. Word? Well, I’m down.
A couple Johnnie Walker Blacks later (I would’ve preferred Dr. Gonzo’s favorite JW Red but I doubted they kept the low-end shit at this joint) and the match had a brand new jump to it. On a side-screen, the English take the lead on a miraculous shin-ball finish from Jermaine Defoe and some courageously bad goalkeeping. Now we’ve gotta win to move on. We’re creating chances and dictating the action apart from the vein-in-your-skull-starts-throbbing Algerian counter-attacks enabled by the gaping spaces in our midfield. Dempsey and Gomez miss sitters, Jozy launches a seven yard rebound twenty yards over the goal. Adrenaline does funny things to our muscle memory. The Algerians up the aggressiveness, physicality, and chippiness as end game nears, taking a couple ‘professional’ fouls on our lads.
The clock stubbornly refuses to chill and ticks upward. DaMarcus Beasley comes on reminding us just how long ago 2002 was; once a tantalizing wunderkind with all of youth’s promise and innocence (he pissed on the field during a World Cup match in 2002. Like, literally, took a leak on the field. Awesome.), now he’s balding and the 130-pound frame no longer looks springy but fragile and corroding. We all have a sense of how much is on the line, of the injustices of the Slovenia match which Karma dictates must be corrected. Meanwhile, those weasley British, led by England’s Brave and Loyal John Terry, hanker to reverse the opprobrium of their first two matches with a win that will send them forward and us homeward. They anticipate the prospect and the understated, dry chuckles it would call for with wry smiles.
Dempsey takes a shot to the face and earns the scorn of a couple former players in our audience by milking it and complaining to the referee. There’s a time and place for the theatrics, and the 89th minute of a deciding World Cup match does not fulfill either criteria. By calling attention to the blood on his chin, rules necessitate he leave the pitch, therefore making us play with ten men as the 90th minute becomes immediate. ‘I understand a young kid doing this, but he should be smarter. He’s playing over in the Premiership.’ I joke, ‘perhaps we shouldn’t try to copy the English model so much anymore.’ Crickets. People are on edge, and the chatter has faded. Nervous, impulsive drinking, taking a sip involuntarily because there is nothing else for the hand to do, holds court.
We’re in stoppage time and two typecast American blondes (knockouts) along with two equally beautiful brunettes have just received their champagne flutes, taking a seat on the couch and gracing us with their company for the last four or five minutes. I don’t suspect they’ve ordered the champagne for celebration purposes; the vixens comprehensively have no idea of what is going on. They just like bubbles on sunny afternoons. A ‘so who’s playing?’ question would not have been that far out of line.
And then, Tim Howard receives the ball and launches it a good 50 yards on the fly to a streaking Landon Donovan. The swarm of desperation amongst the players along with a nice whiskey buzz muddles the details of the ensuing moments, but suddenly, there’s a rebound, and Lando finds it, and he buries it!!!!!!!!!!!! No phantom off-sides call!!!!!!!! America rides on!!!
The place erupts. Forceful hugging and the Godzilla-like destruction of drinks in the surrounding area follow. My God what a finish. Feels like LJ in ’99. I think I see Lando mouth ‘I run the streets the streets don’t run me’ on the replay following the match-winner but I can’t be sure.
The win is digested and proper decorum begins to reassert itself. My buddy and I talk about the enormity of the victory, how Lando has transformed from a brilliantly talented but occasionally diffident and underachieving young man to a patriot who deserves his place besides Washington, Eisenhower, the Roosevelts, and Jack Bauer. Absorbing what just happened calls for a few minutes of introversion for the next couple minutes. Though the ‘gathering’ and its accompanying open-bar is winding down, and though it could be a somewhat frowned upon move, we covertly order one more whiskey from our slick accomplice of a waiter. Quality stuff.
Later on at dinner, a dinner which also serves as a birthday celebration for a lad turning 22, we belatedly sort through the rather remedial arithmetic of the German victory over Ghana and figure out that we will play the Black Stars in the next round. Hombre and I were both at the last time the USA met these stalwarts of West Africa, a depressing defeat in ’06 that served as the last rodeo for Reyna, McBride, Arena, etc. This time around, however, there’s no Essien to deal with, and he is a force. If we can win that one, we’ll draw the Uruguay-Korea victor. You gotta figure every team in our little bracket is pleased with the layout.
Observing the birthdayers throw back shots like it’s a Mad Men board meeting, I feel my fleeting youth slip just a little further away. Still, I want to scream ‘I’m a God-damn American icon’ like Don Cheadle in Ocean’s 13 for the remainder of the night, so things are pretty good.
Holland-Cameroon last night. The Dutch are very good. And mad tall. And arrive in waves of orange.
They have slipped under the radar a bit at this Cup, the result of previous failures on the biggest stage and an unfair stigma attached to their style of soccer. ‘Total football’ and its attacking emphasis continues to earn condescending responses of more defensive oriented nations (sort of like the mainstream response to the Nash-era Phoenix Suns). ‘It is very pretty, but that is not the way you win.’ I don’t give much weight to that oversimplifying critique, as the Dutch have reached two finals and are consistently one of the best sides in the world. On top of that, De Jong is an immovable, dense center-of-gravity in the holding midfielder role, so there will be no easy buckets against these lads this time around. Heitinga is a rock, as well. It would be cool to see them do work.
Was supposed to be at Brazil and Portugal this afternoon but my flight got all kinds of messed up. Damn. Hope to catch the second half.