For about five seconds yesterday, everything was perfect. People were jumping up and down and screaming, and the people in blue on television were doing the same. Then the screaming around me stopped and the screaming on screen was aimed in one direction. Then it was all gone.
Say what you will about the call, but we all know it was wrong. The States got jobbed, and they should have won that game. There will be people calling for a number of punishments and retribution, and maybe they will get somewhere with that.
There will also be people that say they didn’t deserve it anyway, that the first half was so bad they didn’t deserve the three points. Play a full 90, they will say. Deserve to advance despite the referees. There was certainly plenty of chances for soccer haters to point and laugh on Friday, and even with the result many will say the US has accomplished nothing in a pair of draws.
There will be plenty said on all sides but what I care about is that moment, those few seconds where everything was wonderful and the States had stormed all the way back. There was something in those few seconds that I had been looking for these last few weeks, and no matter how brief that moment was it’s something I won’t forget for some time. That moment was everything I’ve wanted out of this whole thing all along.
A few weeks ago, before FC Buffalo kicked their season off, I asked Nick Mendola a simple question. I figured he was the best person to ask, and it was certainly easy enough: why does soccer matter in Buffalo? This is what he sent back:
Soccer matters here because for 20 years we talked about how every kid in America plays soccer and would one day be a grown-up bringing his kid up on the game. That time is here, and it’s time to stop listening to meatheads who want to pretend there are only four sports in America.
I never did anything with the quote, but it really got me thinking about things. I was one of those kids who played soccer and drifted away from the sport. I was a goalie and loved it, and from youth leagues to playing at recess it was the game of choice when I had the chance to play. Something happened, though. Maybe it was baseball or maybe I just started watching sports more than I played them. Either way, soccer slipped away.
Still, there was a part of me that loved the game. The last World Cup was a revelation, and I spent that month trying to understand its importance. I knew what was going on, but to understand why it was happening was another story. That was the gap, what I was missing from the equation in order to really know.
The fact of the matter is that I’m an inadequate soccer fan. It may sound silly, but I know what hockey means to those that love it. The same goes for football and baseball, and I think that understanding goes a long way when it comes to watching a sport. You know what’s at stake and you know why it matters. I don’t have that with soccer just yet, and if there’s anything I’m searching for in these games it is that understanding.
So when Edu’s left foot connected with that ball and the net buckled, I was there. The first half was sobering but Donovan gave us hope, and the equalizer put everyone on the edge. But to get three and win it was the moment they make commercials about, the moment that could change everything.
And even thought it didn’t last, it did change everything for me. When that ball hit the net and the beer started to fly through the air, I figured out why soccer matters to the people that surrounded me in Papa Jake’s on Friday. For the longest time I wanted to be there with them, wanted to understand what got them there in the first place.
But a moment like that, an improbable, wonderful moment like a late game-winner is all I needed to remember all those hours pretending to be a real soccer goalie all those years ago. I don’t have an EPL team (yet) and I don’t watch the MLS, but as of right now I’m pretty sure I “get it.”
There will always be haters, but soccer doesn’t need to be changed to attract fans. What it needs, what this country needs, are more moments like that. It’s what I needed, even if it only lasted five seconds. In those few moments, when all I wanted to do was jump in the air and bounce off of strangers, everything made sense.
I can’t wait for it to happen again, and maybe this time it will last forever.