Group stages have ended and today is the first break in the 2018 World Cup.
I dipped into the vault to grab this powerful article by former All-Landmark Conference GK Michael Brand, the only NCAA soccer player to sport a handlebar mustache in his official team photo. Michael wrote about his experience at a Bethlehem viewing party during the 2014 World Cup group-stage match between the USMNT and Portugal.
You can also read my piece from that day (Something Special Stolen) here.
We were two Apostles, dressed in our best Red, White, and Blue combination of USA soccer and basketball jerseys, on a pilgrimage to witness our Lord and Savior Clint Dempsey.
The trip started poorly thanks a 20-minute downpour minutes before we reached Bethlehem Steel Stacks. Things looked gloomy.
But aha! Allah poked his bright beard through the clouds just as Corda and I witnessed our first Dempsey Rocket Pop Jersey drinking Miller Light and juggling in the parking lot.
While we walked through the crowd of roughly 8,000 proud US supporters — plus a handful of gorgeous Portuguese woman — I couldn’t tell if I were at Coachella waiting to see OUTKAST or crammed amid bunch of hipster teens and 20-somethings fighting over $7 24oz Tecates as we anticipated Tim Howard’s thick beard and thicker bis.
We made our way through the crowd trying to find a spot that wouldn’t interfere with the fans that had been there for eight hours watching all the other matches and braving the brief storm in their folding patio chairs.
Once the warm-ups started so did the chants of U! S! A! I got cheer-chills.
And at that moment, I would have picked watching the game in Bethlehem than in Brazil.
The screens were big, the screams were bigger and everyone was hyped.
We got stuck right in front of one screen, so we focused on another on the opposite side of the venue. That meant Corda and I faced a pack of 20-30 girls who ogled us the whole time.
People in the crowd wore any America-branded article of clothing they owned. Throughout the day, for example, we spotted the best Starting 5 in USA Basketball history. We had a Michael Jordan, a Shaquille O’Neal, an Alonzo Mourning, a David Robinson (Corda’s jersey), a Charles Barkley and, at Sixth Man, Kevin Durant. We also can’t forget the guy wearing a red,white and blue Padres jersey.
When Corda trekked to the bathroom, I decided to talk to the two young women sitting next to us. The blonde, we’ll call her Brittany, was a former high school cheerleader and the brunette, we’ll call her Stacy, was a former high school soccer player. Both double-fisted clear plastic cups full of beer.
I asked what they thought of the game and the World Cup in general and Stacy answered:
“I don’t watch much soccer, but I used to play in high school. Ya know it’s hard to watch a lot of soccer except for the World Cup and I like how it’s all the best players and the goals don’t come often so when they do it’s significant.”
Just as I started to respond, our deep conversation was interrupted by a WHAT? A WATER BREAK!?
We never re-established our conversation because they they boxed me out and resumed discussing their weekend plans for the next, roughly, one year.
During our drive to Bethlehem, Corda pointed out that, to win, Tim Howard would need to play “out of his FREAKING mind!”
And in the 45th minute, “out of his FREAKING mind” was an apt way to describe Howard’s save-post-save combo.
I’ve always loved when ESPN or some other station will play video of a viewing party crowd erupting after an incredible play. For the first time, I lived it.
Let me set the stage:
Jermaine Jones was there on the field, but just pretty much hanging out outside the penalty are, much like I was hanging just hang out outside a gang of 18 year olds.
Jones, who doesn’t really speak English, managed to throw a crazy amount of it on the ball, bending it around Nani and into the net.
I couldn’t believe that this was real life.
I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN
I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN
I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN
The crowd kept chanting and chanting as we realized that we were actually going to win our group.
But then we saw the stoppage time. FIVE MINUTES? How could it be?
There were few injuries, only 2 substitutions and just couple goal celebrations.
How could there possibly be five minutes minimum of added time? It should have been three minutes. Four minutes tops. But five? What a load of Bethlehem Steel Superfund Site Toxic Waste.
It’s OK. We have the game locked down and then — wait — Bradley just lost it? Why didn’t he kick it into the 29th row of the upper deck? How did he lose it in the very middle of the field?
My mind started racing as the game unraveled and —
No — This isn’t real. Now CR7 has it and the US defenders are jogging? What the fuck!
But again, it’s OK. We have three defenders in the 18 with only one Portuguese player to challenge. Yes, we’ll be fine. There’s 30 seconds left. OK. I should start filming so I can capture the crowd scream and yell at the final whistle because WE BELIEVE WE WILL WIN.
But no. No. No no no no no no no no no no.
The World Player of the Year just sent a perfect ball into the box and Portugal stole a tie.
And that was it. The game was over and we just left in disgust. I’ll never watch the video I took again.
I’ve experienced a lot of games: elementary school rec, the ‘99 Woman’s world cup, Metrostars and Red bulls, Atletico Madrid at Vicente Calderon, Arsenal at the Emirates, my own matches captaining my college team. But never have I experienced a tie that felt more like a devastating loss.
But — I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN and advance and put this game behind us. in the name of the father, the son, and Clint Dempsey.
And I will leave you with the old saying “A tie is like kissing your hot Portuguese sister.”
RATING: 9.5/10 for being a US soccer fan and enjoying the game with more US fans than I could have ever imagined .
11/10 for seeing Coachella instagrams in real life at a US soccer viewing party
3/10 for being with Corda … just kidding