In the words of Lee Greenwood: "I'm proud to be an American."
This is the first time that I've honestly been able to say that in a very, very long time. From the dufus that's running our country (try googling the word "failure"... pretty funny), to our foreign policy being a complete shitshow, to the way that we're hated across the globe; these aren't very 'proud' times to be an American.
These aren't great times to be a fan of any of the teams that represent our country, either. Our basketball team has been sucking serious jaggon in the olympics, our baseball team famously flopped in the WBC, and our hockey team hasn't had a sniff of gold in any of their recent tournaments. The only sport that we seem to be excelling in is American Football, probably because we're the only country on earth that plays it.
I, like many others of my ilk, had visions of grandeur for this World Cup. This was to be the coming out party for the United States. This was going to be the straw that broke the camels back; the point where Americans finally caught on to soccer, and soccer supplanted hockey as the 4th "major" sport in the country. Improbable? Yes. But impossible? Not really.
After our opening game loss to the Czech Republic, you heard the team described as "uninspiring", "unflattering", "lethargic", and "dissapointing."
After we tied Italy (a tie!), you heard the team described as "heroic", "fighters", "valiant", and "proud."
Proud like Lee Greenwood wants us to be.
In all seriousness, that game on Saturday was such a roller coaster of emotions for me. I went from the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows... sometimes those emotions came within minutes of one another, sometimes within seconds.
Over the course of one game, I managed to hug complete strangers, lose my voice from cheering, threaten to assassinate Pablo Mastroeni when he gets back to Colorado, and spill a handful of drinks by slamming my fist into the table after the second red card.
I went from das uber-depressed (Italy's first goal), to gleeful (Italy's second goal... which they scored for us), to ecstatic (Italy's red car for the elbow) in a matter of minutes.
I'm fairly sure I suffered a heart attack when Eddie Pope got his second yellow card (especially after telling everybody at the bar, and friends on the phone, that if Bruce kept Pope in the game, that he would get his second yellow... my prophecy came true 1 minute into the 2nd half) and we had to play the rest of the game with 9 men.
I was absolutely elated when Beasley scored a goal to give the US an improbable 2-1 lead over Italy, only to have my world turned to confusion, then catostrophy when I realized the offside flag was up.
The last 15 minutes might have been the most nervous and turturous minutes of my life... wildly cheering our boys to hold onto the draw, to keep any hope we had alive.
When the final whistle blew and we left the bar, I was completely exhausted. Emotionally, physically, and psychologically exhausted. I hissed like a vampire when I walked outside into the sun, struggling to stand up and drag myself home.
For a while I couldn't figure out how I felt about the game. So many emotions, so many huge swings, such euphoria, such disappointment... my world was a total maelstrom.
However, after all the dust had settled, I had one underlying emotion: pride.
I was fucking proud of the men that put on the Red, White, and Blue jerseys on Saturday. I was proud, once again, to be an American.
And the best part? I'm not alone.
The other day on ESPN's Sportsnation, they held a poll that asked "Which is the most interesting event?" and gave you the options of "USA in World Cup", "NBA Finals", and "U.S. Open."
My vote was obvious, but I was SHOCKED to see how the rest of the country voted:
Out of over 180,000 people that voted, 46% of them said that our United States Men's National team in the World Cup was the most interesting event to them. You know what that is?
(By the way, I think the distribution of these votes is hysterical. If you asked me "Steve, what places would you absolutely hate to live?" My answers would definitely include: West Virginia, Idaho, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. It would also be interesting / humorous to compare this map with a map of how these states voted in the 2004 presidential election / education levels. My guess is that it would be a pretty high correlation. I digress...)
Thursday is one of the most important days in U.S. soccer history. With a result against Ghana and a little help from Italy (it sucks to have to cheer for those greasy douchebags, by the way), we will advance out of the group of death.
Saturday's game was the most watched soccer game in United States history. At the end of the game, it gave me chills all over my body when I heard "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chanted throughout the stadium.
Hopefully Thursday will be more of the same. Hopefully our boys will go out there and play their hearts out, and leave everything on the pitch. Hopefully the results favor us.
Regardless of the result, there is one thing we all certainly will be: proud.
Proud to be Americans supporting our national team.
(While we're here, did anybody see the Korea vs. France game? Our love of Korea and it's rabid fans is well documented, but that was an unbelievable display of pride from the Korean teams. The noise in that stadium was deafening, and it sure as shit wasn't coming from the French. Dae Han Min Guk, son, Dae Han Min Guk.)