The Match: USA v. Portugal, the harshest tie in history
The Date: Sunday, June 22 (2-2, we should have known)
The Venue: Kent Ale House in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
The beer I launched in the air after Clint Dempsey’s go-ahead goal was still dripping from the ceiling when the game ended. My phone was loaded with depressed, profane text messages. Two pint glasses — a pair of lazy metaphors — lay shattered under our table. I was sick to my stomach.
Something special was stolen from us.
Katie and I got to Kent Ale House three hours before the USA/Portugal match and nabbed a prime table nestled in a corner of the bar. Many of my closest friends joined us a little later.
Kent Ale House has been my go-to soccer spot for the past two years. It’s a sparse brick building near the East River in Williamsburg, across the street from the Brooklyn Brewery. A chalkboard behind the bar displays the wide selection of beers. Big windows face the street and provide plenty of natural light.
Recently, Will Leitch wrote that rooting for the USMNT team is “Hipster Patriotism.” That was certainly true among the NPR-and-craft-beer set at Kent Ale House. The place was jammed and Raul Meireles would have fit in well. While several people wore USA jerseys, an equal number wore red, white and blue oxfords.
The bar also attracts people filtering out of the Brooklyn flea market and soccer players carrying their cleats from neighboring Bushwick Inlet park. Before halftime, I noticed a blonde boy who looked about 10 standing behind us with his cool dad. The boy wore an American flag bandana and his face was painted. He was clenching his jaw, fixated on the match. Older than his years.
The crowd is interesting, the food is tasty, there is free WiFi and I really like this place. Too bad I will never go back.
A few weeks ago, I watched the Atletico Madrid/Real Madrid Champions League final at Kent Ale House. Atletico, my favorite team, clung to a 1-0 lead until Sergio Ramos headed in the tying goal in the 93′. Atletico lost 4-1 in extra time. I wanted to punch a hole through the wall.
Yesterday, I was standing in the exact same spot behind that corner table when Ronaldo sent a lob to his teammate Varela flying unmarked toward the US goal. Varela headed it home, tied the game and spoiled a great party.
I let my guard down a few moments before the goal. I removed my sunglasses from my shirt collar so they wouldn’t get crushed when my friends and I hugged to celebrate the pending victory. THE USA IS GOING TO ADVANCE! I braced myself for the friendship scrum.
A butterfly flaps its wings in Williamsburg and Michael Bradley loses possession in Manaus.
We were seconds away from a moment of glory. That’s what really hurts. We were about to PARTY. We were so loud when Dempsey scored. It was deafening. How would we have cheered and cried if the US had just held the ball for a few more seconds? If Geoff Cameron had just marked Varela? If Klinsmann had waited a minute or so into extra time before he made a substitution?
The crowd revved up at the beginning of the second half and stayed amped through Jones and Dempsey’ goals right up until Varela’s header. My friend Kevin kicked things off by singing the melody to “7 Nation Army.” Our crew joined in, but it didn’t catch on until later. The USA needs better cheers and I propose we tap into the catalog of American standards. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” whenever Tim Howard makes a great save, for example.
I was holding a full beer when Dempsey scored. Everyone around me went bonkers, hopping and hugging. ‘Screw it. It will spill anyway,’ I thought. So I tossed the liquid in the air and joined the fray. I imagined I would have lived that moment times ten if the USA had held on to the 2-1 lead.
They didn’t though. Maybe I had hallucinated earlier and that tense blonde boy was really a memory of myself as an adolescent. I immediately recalled all the traumatic sports failures from my past. One in particular stood out:
In 2001, shortly after 9/11, the Mets were making a dramatic run at the NL East Division lead. My dad and I went to a game in late September against the Atlanta Braves, a team that scarred my childhood. The Mets never beat the Braves and Armando Benitez kept it that way. When he blew a save that day, I felt lost and angry, but so did everyone else at Shea Stadium. My dad soothed me and taught me that it is better to experience a devastating sports moment surrounded by people who share your frustration than to be alone with your anger.
At least I was with my girlfriend and close friends yesterday. We went to another bar after the match for group therapy. I felt a little better, but I imagine this tie (I keep typing loss by accident) will always sting.
OVERALL ATMOSPHERE: Clint Dempsey’s goal provided a 10/10, in our corner of the bar. Unfortunately, that was a fleeting 10. This is difficult to score objectively because I still feel sick about the result. But let’s say 9/10. I had about five hours of hang time with my buddies in a cool bar on a beautiful day.