USMNT

Stolen memories

Photo by Daniel

I grew up in the country and every 4th of July our neighborhood had a huge party. It was an enormous event, with a dozen or so families and all of their kids. My fondest memories happened before any of us got jaded by middle school and teenage nonsense. It was my Sandlot era of life, and this party was the main event of the summer.

The holiday observance in 1994 happened to be on the same day that Earnie Stewart and those plucky, denim-starred American upstarts played Brazil in the knockout round of the World Cup. I loved kicking the ball, but in a naive way wherein I knew nothing of the game of soccer and I certainly didn’t know a thing about the players on the field that day. Regardless, I watched those boys weather a mighty storm from the eventual champion Seleção, completely shocked at how many of my friends and neighbors crowded around the TV with me. It was the greatest moment in American soccer history since 1950 and I watched every minute.

When the 1998 tournament came, I was stuck on a Griswold-style family vacation in Arizona. I popped in and out of restaurants throughout the trip, catching a lot of Nigeria’s exciting run through the group stages and only bits of news about the Americans. I had a buzzed head, braces, and Peter Crouch’s build, and ultimately, I found myself alone in a bar, perched on the rim of the Grand Canyon, eating chicken wings and watching in disbelief as the Americans fell 2-0 to Iran. It was the lowest point in American soccer history, and, thanks to a nice tip to the bartended who allowed a teenager to belly up for two hours in the middle of the afternoon for some reason, I watched every minute.

In 2002, I felt a sense of pride and more a badge of honor as I would wake up in the middle of the night to watch the games in Japan and Korea. I had an apartment with five other guys, none of whom liked soccer, and since there was no way to watch this tournament by accident, I began to feel ownership over as like-able a team as the USA have ever fielded. When Torsten Frings’s hand “innocently” got in the way of Gregg Berhalter’s shot on the goal line in the 49th minute of the American’s quarterfinal match against eventual finalist, Germany, it was the most helpless moment in American soccer history, though it was some ungodly hour in the morning, I watched every minute.

By 2006, I had moved to Philadelphia but hadn’t made many friends. I was in a long term relationship that was unraveling by the day, and whether it was at the graduate student center or at a bar, I watched every minute of the disappointing matches in big crowds, all alone. Searching for something tangible in a city that would become my home, I took a sheet of notebook paper, wrote my email address at the bottom and, “I want to play soccer” at the top, and tacked the thing on to the wall of a building on campus. The person who reached out to me the very next day was the captain of West Philly FC at the time, the club for which I have played to this day. I’m the captain now. West Philly FC is the best club I have ever played for and, save for some foot injuries in 2012 and 2013, I have played and loved every minute.

When the South Africa tournament took place in 2010, I was living alone for the first time and deep in the weeds of starting a business. I had most of the games on in the background while I worked, streaming because I couldn’t afford cable, and I took the afternoon off to watch Landon Donovan slot home the extra time winner against a diving and hopeless Rais M’Bohli alone in my office, screaming and celebrating like a madman. The team felt like they were mine again. That goal was the most indelible moment in American soccer history and I watched every minute.

Suddenly, I was married and in 2014, my pregnant wife and I had some of my oldest and closest friends over to watch Jurgen’s Americans battle the mighty Belgians. In a game the Stars and Stripes should never have been in and also could have absolutely won, the most memorable storyline was that Tim Howard made so many saves he became a meme. It was the most transcendent moment in American soccer history and, in the house where I got engaged, seated next to the mother of my children and my best friend of 30 years, I watched every minute.

You already know that the Americans failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup. The public derision of the team, the system, and the federation as a whole has been substantial, as has the contempt and dismay. It’s the lowest point in modern American soccer history, and we won’t get to see another minute of it.

My son will only be 3 when the games start next year, and my daughter only 1. Though I’m sad I won’t get to write the next chapter of my World Cup story, I’m glad they’re so young they won’t miss out on writing their first.

17 Comments

  1. You don’t get to write your next chapter of your American World Cup story. Even if they had qualified there would have been at least 57 games that the US didn’t play in. Now it’s 64. Maybe one of these will be the next England-Argentina from ’86.

  2. Was tough to tell my 10-year-old yesterday. Waited for after school. Took time to explain what happened. As a Philly kid and a huge Union fan, he’s callused against failure, so he’s OK. We’ll just have to decide who to root for next year.

    • ABM – Anybody but Mexico (since they didn’t return the favor from 4 years ago).

      • el Pachyderm says:

        four years ago a man wasn’t trying to get them to pay for a wall.

      • Good point (although I’ve been rooting against them long before that was an issue and I don’t think I change now…with the possible exception if they were build a sun rocket with Rafa Marquez on it).

      • My old standby is always Italy. After that, would love to see Messi get to the top of the mountain, even if he has to put that team on his back. Would be a good story. Underdog favorite is Iceland. If I were putting money on the whole thing, I’d probably pick Brazil. They look ready to do it all this year. Runner up is France. I don’t have anything against Mexico. Not at all their fault we couldn’t beat an Island team with a population smaller than Philadelphia.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      le bleu.

  3. Chris Gibbons says:

    Part of what I can’t figure out that I couldn’t seem to quantify last night was this: I feel so much more disappointed by this failure, one which merely would have prolonged the inevitability of the team NOT winning the World Cup by 10 months, than I did by 30 years of Phillies futility or being an Eagles fan in every season that wasn’t 1960. It doesn’t make sense.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      Yes. Do sadness about missing a tournament we’d never win. But just being there is a kind of magic, you know?

      WPFC represent!

    • It makes sense to a certain degree: we ended up with a German Coach who tried to get the team to play ticky-tack soccer. Unfortunately the players were not technical enough and not capable to do this. Had we continued with defend and counter-attack, as we used to, we would probably have qualified.
      .
      I am lucky since I was born in Germany and can now follow Germany. Seeing them play Brazil at Brauhaus Schmitz with circa 200 others during the last WC was one of my most fun times in Philly. So watch games there when Germany plays. When Ireland & England plays go to Tir Na Nog, when the other teams play go to Fado. Then when you watch the drama, fight and excitement of the WC games then you will soon forget about the uninspiring US team.

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    My dad is 62 and enjoyed soccer all his life, we have been Union STH since day 1. When Qatar stole the Cup from the US for 2022, I was gutted, as affording to go to the 94 Cup here, while he was raising a family was just not possible. Obviously it seems like the 2026 is a lock to be here, but that’s 9 years away. While not the same, it’s just a thing about this sport and the WC in particular that make it unique. Knowing we won’t be there to participate is just mind boggling and sad… and it makes you realize there are only so many of these we get to enjoy. It’ll be a long 600 or so days, before the USMNT plays another game.
    .
    As fans of this game, we are always fighting for “relevance” in the sports landscape. It’s just really shitty we are missing the biggest tournament in this World, while soccer is on the upswing. Two steps forward, one step back.
    .
    And to touch on what you said Chris, I am a huge Flyers fan as well. They haven’t won in my lifetime, despite getting close a few times. And this does hurt more than that, for me too.

  5. I met my husband while volunteering at the World Cup in 1994. While I don’t have a memory as good as yours, I do remember watching many games in 1998, 2002 and 2006. My memories of 2010 and 2014 center around my children – one a German fan, one a French fan…we loved watching all of the games as a family. At least their teams are still around to cheer…

  6. I think world cups can be pretty fun even without the USA. 1986 was pretty good no? Roger Milla’s heroics at Italia 1990 I will remember forever.

  7. I first realized the passion around this game and the World Cup in 1974, when my German former goalkeeper father-in-law took me to watch the WC final, West Germany v Netherlands, on closed circuit. I went on to coach and have two boys play. Now one coaches one of my grandsons, playing for the same club, Hunter SC. We will survive this disaster and hopefully still live to see an American World Cup champion! At least the Germans are the defending champs, and Iceland welcomes all fans aboard!

  8. 2002 was such a fun World Cup to watch. A lot of that had to do with how far the US progressed, but the other great thing was that you could watch all of the matches if you wanted to. They didn’t occur during the work day so if you were willing to forgo sleep for a month, you could see it all.

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