The Match: Colombia v. Uruguay
The Date: Saturday, June 28
The Venue: Cafecito Bogotá on Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Was fourteen a tough age for you?
I was a freshman in high school and because of a knee injury, I couldn’t play on my high school’s freshman team with most of my friends. I missed out on those inside jokes and that bonding time. I spent afternoons at home watching 7th Heaven reruns on Fox Family and IMing with girls I would never actually hang out with. Puberty was hitting me pretty hard so I was often sleepy with sweaty armpits. I had seven gaps in my smile beneath an imperceptible blonde mustache. The USA went to war and my town got caught up in “Freedom Fries”-level jingoism. No one remembered my name.
In the late-winter, things started to get better. My knee healed and I joined a soccer team of mostly Colombian kids from Morristown, NJ. I finally felt kind of cool. Our team would watch VHS tapes of old World Cup games and play pick-up at a church gym on Friday nights. Five minutes before kickoff of our Sunday league games, six kids would be at the field and we worried we’d forfeit. All of a sudden a van would pull up, ten teammates would spill out and then we’d win.
The Colombian parents would set up tents and shout ¡Ole! after successful take-ons. Dads who actually knew about soccer would compliment my free kicks into the box. I fantasized that I was pro and I craved that authentic community.
We played together for two seasons. I remember that I was very sad when our team broke up, but memories get a little warped after more than a decade. Maybe I’m exaggerating it all now because it is a sweet memory. Maybe I wasn’t as sad as I realize I should have been. I was 16, carving out my own niche, playing for other teams and actually starting to hang out with girls instead of IM with them.
It doesn’t matter though. I cherish the memory of that community and I think that’s why I love watching soccer among other people.
I was glad for the opportunity to watch among Colombians on Saturday afternoon. Earlier in the day, I tried to get into Miss Favela in Williamsburg to watch Brazil, but I didn’t realize that forty people outside the bar were waiting on line to get inside. I bypassed the horde and got called out by a bouncer with a ref’s whistle. Other than roller coasters, I find few things are worth waiting on line so I left and walked along Kent Ave. to meet my friend Kevin in Greenpoint. On the way, I passed roughly 600 dim bars broadcasting the Brazil game. Inside each bar, a handful of guys sat on stools in the dark while the droll analysts and droning Brazilian crowd echoed in the otherwise empty rooms. I did not want that kind of experience on Saturday.
What a relief then that Cafecito Bogotá was so bright and colorful. At 3 pm, Kevin and I headed over to the restaurant on Manhattan Ave. and nabbed the last table in the back of the bar. Our seats afforded us an excellent view of the match and the crowd. The doors were open so we were about a foot from the sidewalk
Cafecito Bogotá is a slim rectangle with a long bar near one wall and a silhouette of the Colombian capital’s skyline painted on the other. Next to the bar, a large blackboard advertises an assortment of coffees. I ordered an espresso and it was delicious. Signs for four Bogotá bus routes sit above the bar and lightbulbs dangle from cords attached to the ceiling.
The bartender David dished out warm Latina American cervezas, including Aguila, a Colombian beer I’ve never heard of. He was the only staff member wearing Colombia’s yellow jersey. Our overworked waiter said he was Puerto Rican and didn’t care much about soccer. More Colombians fans, including a girl wrapped in the yellow, red and blue Colombian flag and an older woman in an old-school jersey, entered as game time approached.
While Kevin and I chilled at our table, the staff tried to fix their ailing TV projector, which hung limply from the ceiling. It basically pointed at the floor so that it projected a trapezoid instead of a rectangle on the large screen. They never did get the aspect ratio quite right so all close-up shots made the players, especially the Uruguayans in skintight Puma shirts, look like Goombas from the Super Mario Bros. movie. Tiny head Edinson Cavani was the best.
About a half hour before the match, as I finished a plump chicken arepa and realized they were never going to fix that projector, the restaurant started filling up. Dozens of people, including many in Colombian apparel, stopped by the bar and left when they saw that there were no open seats. I invited a few people to share our tiny table. A middle-aged cougar named Diana in white pants and yellow jersey, a young Colombian guy and his three supportive friends, three guys in Colombia colors and a lesbian couple all refused. Finally, two Colombian friends decided to rest their drinks on our table and appropriate our stool. Carolina, the younger of the two Colombianas, is an archivist in Greenpoint. Her friend Estela is a botanist at the New York Botanical Gardens. Unlike countless other Colombian botanists, Estela does not specialize in the coca plant.
The bar was jammed at kickoff and a crowd gathered behind us on the sidewalk. By then Kevin and I had already downed a few Aguilas and shots of aguardiente, a licorice-flavored liqueur. The notes I typed into my phone appear pretty shaky and abstract from here on out.
“Be careful with aguardiente,” Estela warned. “You like it now, but tomorrow you don’t.”
The crowd was loud and positive, but I got the impression there weren’t many diehards at the restaurant. Plenty of people high-fived when James Rodriguez scored his two goals, but no one flung beer or anything after his wünderstrike. Overall, people behaved politely.
My friend Matthew from Queens sent me photos of the action in Jackson Heights later that night. Last week, I saw the Ecuadorians party on Roosevelt Ave. after their win over Honduras in group play. It looked like the Colombians stepped it up even more to celebrate advancing to the quarterfinals. Can’t wait to see how they react when they beat Brazil.
I wonder how my former teammates were celebrating. Were any of them in Jackson Heights? I hope they sang when Rodriguez scored and shouted ¡Eso! after every successful take on. Most of all, I hope they still have that community they had when we were 14.
OVERALL ATMOSPHERE: 7/10 for the skinny, bright cafe with the crappy projector. People were pleased, positive and polite, but the celebration didn’t compare to the fiesta over in Jackson Heights.