Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sometimes a tie is worse than kissing your sister

I would not consider myself such an enormous United States national team fan that I watch every friendly and keep tabs on just who might be a better option than Michael Bradley in the center midfield (answer: probably no one on this roster), but I do follow the team's qualification process and watch when I can. And more to the point, I have put life aside to watch every single U.S. World Cup match since 2002, with the one exception of its Dos a Cero victory over rival Mexico in the round of 16 12 years ago because my alarm somehow failed to go off in time for the 2 a.m. kickoff, as the game was played in Jeonju, South Korea. I have watched those games in basements, living rooms, bars, public parks and once in the empty offices of the Boston Globe's D.C. bureau. This coming Thursday I am taking a personal day from work so I do not have to be distracted during our group play finale against Germany.

Since I first made the World Cup appointment viewing, I have witnessed a heartbreaking quarterfinal loss in which the U.S. went home despite dramatically outplaying the Germans in 2002, a miserable group stage from which the U.S. failed to advance in 2006, a painful 2010 round-of-16 ouster against Ghana in which Asamoah Gyan scored the winner in extra time against the run of play, and a stunning collapse against Mexico in the Final of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

It isn't Northwestern, but the USMNT delivers its fair share of heartbreak.

But with all of those matches burned into my brain, I have never experienced the kind of bitter, broken feeling that seeped into me just before 8 p.m. on Sunday night. The negative shift in emotions was so dramatic that I have yet to entirely process it and couldn't quite bring myself to write about it until 36 hours later. And the U.S. didn't even lose.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Mets have driven me to soccer: FIFA World Cup 2014

Last night something remarkable happened. I went to Citi Field to watch the Mets host the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers and thanks largely to a surprisingly solid outing from Daisuke Matsuzaka and a line drive grand slam by Taylor Teagarden in his first game with the team, I actually saw New York win a game at home for the first time in four visits. This isn't the first win I've seen in person this season of course. In April I saw the first nine innings of a 13-inning win against the Angels that I missed the conclusion of so I could catch my plane. In New York a few weeks later I saw the Mets slug their way to a surprising blowout win at Yankee Stadium.

But this was the first time I got to hear "Taking Care of Business" and it was a dandy of a time. So everything's cool, right? Well, not really. That win was the Mets' first in a week coming on the heels of a six-game losing streak at a particularly inopportune time since they were on the cusp of reaching .500 again and a mere three games out of first. Shockingly, I don't think the page has really been turned, so, essentially, I'm in need of a distraction.

Thank goodness for futbal, am I right?

Tomorrow marks the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, which, as you can probably deduce from what I've written before, has me outlandishly excited. Of all the sports I watch, soccer is not my favorite, but of all the competitions I deign to throw myself into, the World Cup just might be the best. Sporting events are nearly always more exciting when they take on a nationalist twinge, but for all the complaints Americans have had in the past for soccer, its low scores, its ties, its flopping, few games on a national scale can match the World Cup for drama. This country should know that well after producing the two greatest moments in its soccer history in recent tournaments.

The World Cup with its pitched intensity (see what I did there?), worldwide enthusiasm and penchant for producing rare brushes with greatness given its quadrennial schedule is an event unlike anything else. Each tournament brings its own special collection of wild moments, heartbreak and controversy that will linger, and I plan to be glued to the television screen for each and every match I can watch up to and including the Final on July 13 (which I plan to watch in an open plaza in Madrid, Spain, but more on that next month).