Listen, I don’t want to brag, but I think we can all agree I did almost as much as Landon Donovan to push Team USA ahead in the World Cup. I traveled here, I traveled there, I watched, I sweated, I screamed.
Sure, I still have only a dim, murky grasp of the rules after years of soccer-watching, but enthusiasm counts for a lot in my book. I have a long history of screaming at my children’s matches, pacing the sidelines, clutching bystanders’ arms and squeezing till the blood begins to spurt. I’ve supported teams in freezing weather, torrential rain, scorchers, wind storms. All this — and my husband usually sat in the bleachers, pretending he had no earthly idea who I was.
This World Cup, I watched the U.S.’s opening match with England in New York with my husband. We were both so nervous, we were almost levitating. Since he was about to leave for a teaching stint in the Mother Country, I suggested many ripostes the British might find amusing, such as whether the Queen might behead their goalkeeper for botching an easy score.
Then, we left New York and I watched the U.S.’s second game, against Slovenia, with my friend Kathleen in Virginia. Well, I mean, if you want to get technical about it, Kathleen and I missed the dismal first half because we were trying to catch up with each other’s lives. But we more than made up for it, in my opinion, with our loud cheering and semi-hysterical screams and well-considered criticism of the referee’s error that cost the U.S. a win.
By the third game, which was against Algeria, I was in Dallas, with a couple of my loudest friends, Stephanie and Maria. Both of them have already been introduced in this blog (See Maria comes to New York and how Stephanie and I degraded ourselves in front of the laundromat if you don’t believe me). Since it was a morning game, we drank mimosas and Maria brought Kahlua just in case we wanted it for our coffee. By the time Janet — whose house we were watching the game at — got back from her water aerobics class, she swore she could hear us all the way from the street. But Janet’s a writer, which means she exaggerates all the time. Anyway, I do think our running commentary, constant grandstanding and seething aggression and patriotism played a key role in the U.S.’s victory. Also, we all agreed we were somewhat in love with Landon Donovan, even if he was more age-appropriate for our daughters.
It all came to a poignant and miserable end, of course, on Saturday. I was at one of my favorite places on earth, Scholz’ Bier Garten in Austin, where the beer is cold and the nachos are hot, with a group of close friends. We did all we could. I ordered a Diet Pepsi right before Landon scored, so I kept supportively drinking Diet Pepsis through the rest of the game and the overtime. But it wasn’t enough. Team USA went down 2-1.
“Ghana wanted it more,” one of my friends said. “They deserved to win. I’m an athlete, so I always root for the better team.”
Not me. I’m partisan all the way. I was dressed in red, white and blue, bloated with Diet Pepsi, exhausted by it all, worried about Landon’s disappointment. I’ll eventually find some team to root for — halfheartedly — as the World Cup goes on. But it won’t be the same. My team won’t be back in the World Cup for at least another four years. In the meantime, I plan to calm down and save my strength till 2014.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)