On Not Failing the Soccer Tebbit Test

A few days ago in a post on the US men’s soccer team, I wrote:

I find myself cheering for the US when it goes up against a European soccer powerhouse. When they play South American, Asian, or African countries, my underdog sympathies kick in.

Well, on Sunday night, the US was most certainly up against a “European soccer powerhouse” – in this case, Portugal.  And so, as promised, I was cheering for the US. But the nature of my support was markedly different. I think it marked a turning point for this naturalized American citizen of fourteen years.

First, I had noticed–even during the game against Ghana–that I was urging the US on to a win. The US are underdogs in the Group of Death, and so, despite their African opposition, they had my support.

Second, my sense of anticipation of Sunday’s game was palpably distinct from the sensations which have preceded past games played by the USMNT. I was keyed up; I had scouted my immediate surroundings for a viewing venue (my family and I were spending the weekend at a cabin in Bethel, NY, and so I needed to find a restaurant or bar with a large screen television); I had secured all the necessary home-front rights and permissions; my daughter’s sleep time had been suitably delayed; my wife would accompany me. We showed up early, found a table, ordered food and drinks and set ourselves up. This felt like a Big Game; I have never, ever set myself up for a US men’s soccer game like this.

Third, there is the business of Reactions to Goals. I groaned at the first goal by Portugal, and hooped and hollered at the two US goals. Indeed, Dempsey‘s goal brought me to my feet and prompted an exultant punch. Finally, that last-minute Portuguese goal left me stunned and speechless. I don’t think I managed anything more coherent than a ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ as a verbal reaction.  For the first time during a US men’s soccer game, I anticipated glory and tasted bitter disappointment. It was the first time I had taken their setbacks to heart.

Finally, there is the matter of fan solidarity. My viewing venue was relatively denuded of American soccer fans; besides my family, there seemed to be only one other couple paying attention to the game. But with them, I found easy companionship, a shared exultation and then, cruelly, at the last moment, a joint fall.

After the game was over, I walked out into the beautiful summer sunshine, crestfallen to the point of incoherence. I had to quickly drive back to our cabin to put our daughter to bed, and kept muttering inanities on the way back home. A couple of hours later, when I had finally calmed down, I ran the various group qualification scenarios through my mind and relaxed just a tad. Who knows what else this team is capable of?

I didn’t fail the soccer version of the Tebbit test. And it happened during the 2014 World Cup.

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