“We were watching the soccer match,” Eyegal explained to the desk clerk at the historic Park View Guest House in the Garden District of New Orleans last Friday morning.
The US v. Slovenia match had ended just a few minutes before the 11:00 AM checkout time, but we had planned ahead and had our bags packed and ready to go. The “good” US National Team had taken the pitch in the 2nd half after the “bad” one, the U-10 squad that had showed up by mistake, had gone down 0-2 in the first.
Yet the 2-2 draw to stay alive in Group C play had left both of us a bit frustrated. Center Referee Koman Coulibaly, a native of Mali, had called back Maurice Edu’s apparent go-ahead goal on a “mystery call”, and the moaning and wailing that emanated from Room D on the first floor rivaled that of the spirits and specters who endlessly roam the grounds of Lafayette Cemetary No. 1 a few blocks away on St. Charles Avenue.
“That’s what the noise was,” Eyegal added helpfully.
“Yes, we were down 0-2 and came back and tied it and then hit the go-ahead goal but it was called back. Terrible call. Terrible, terrible call,” I blurted out.
The clerk turned his head to the right, gazing out on the hazy, green expanse of Audubon Park, already a sauna in the rising heat and humidity. “So that’s what that noise was,” he said, smiling wryly. “I thought it was coming from out there.”
It was do or die for the Stars and Stripes in yesterday’s final Group C match with Algeria. An outright win would book the US passage to the 2nd Round; anything short of that, and we would need help from Slovenia in their match against England.
Unfortunately, my planned stomach ache had failed to materialize, and I was back at work and in danger of not being able to follow the game. ESPN3 and other pirated video feeds were blocked by my workplace “Net Nanny” (Note to Net Nanny: I can multitask with the best of them, thank you very much). The iPhone World Cup app, the $7.95 upgrade version which was supposed to include live audio, was crashing.
In desperation, I actually considered walking into our waiting room and changing the channel on one of the flat panel TVs from Fox News to ESPN. But I knew that if I did that, that I would be immediately outed as a closet commie. And believe me, the waiting room where I practice is not the kind of place where you want to be outed as a closet commie. I suspect that most days several of my patients are packing heat, and even if they’re not, there’s usually a small arsenal available out in the pickup truck.
I settled on a slow-to-update match feed from the ESPN website and tried to make-do. Like US fans everywhere, except that they weren’t trying to do eye exams like me, I cringed as wave after wave of US attack failed to produce the necessary goal to advance.
Finally, deep into the match, the iPhone audio feed started to work. ESPN Radio’s JP Dellacamera and veteran Irish broadcaster Tommy Smyth were making the call. Time was running out, and listening to the action but not being able to see it only added to my rising anxiety.
As I left my office to see a patient, the match was moving into extra time. I walked down the hall, my shoulders slumping, resigning myself to yet another disappointing finish for the US.
When I returned, Tommy Smyth was yelling at the top of his lungs. “It’s a stouuury book endin’, a stouuury book endin’!”
My heart leapt at what that might mean. I surmised that he was not referring to a draw or an Algerian goal. With lightening quick, I-can-still-kill-a-fly-with-my-bare-hands reflexes (and I can), I refreshed the ESPN feed. “GOAL BY LANDON DONOVAN!” it read. Landon Donovan, hereafter known as Landon the Great.
I slammed my hand on the desk and pumped my fist. “Well done, Landon!” I called out, as if he was one of my own U-10 players from back in the day.
I stifled the urge to yell and to run up and down the hall. We were busy, and I knew it would be taken by some as…unprofessional behavior.
And then it came to me. I pulled out my iPhone, scrolled over to the Vuvuzela app (thanks, Laurie), picked out a nice blue one, and blew my horn.
I have held my peace as I have listened to friends trash soccer these last two weeks. “I can see now why Americans don’t like soccer,” one opined. “Our national team is no good.” I have listened to know-nothing, “nattering nabobs of negativism” refer to soccer as if it was the latest and greatest threat to democracy and The American Way of Life.
It’s a game, people. Not a Nazi blitzkrieg. Not a Stalinist purge. Just ask the people of Clarksville, Georgia who initially tried to ban the sport from their city’s fields, but eventually, as they opened themselves up to learning more about this great big, wide wonderful world that we share with “others,” came to embrace The Beautiful Game and the people who played it.
Frankly, I’m fed up. If you can’t appreciate a group of young men who are not the most talented and technical players by a long shot, but who give their last full measure, leaving none on the pitch, to honor the shirt with the red, white, and blue shield emblazoned with three stars and a soccer ball, the same one I am wearing as I type these words, then there is no hope for you.
But if you come to your senses and want to jump on the bandwagon and cheer on our boys, then welcome aboard. No hard feelings, no questions asked.
The US team now faces Ghana. If they can make it past The Black Stars, the team that eliminated them in the 2006 World Cup, they will be poised to go deeper in this tournament than they ever have.
Another chapter in US Soccer history. Perhaps yet another “stouuury book endin’!”