Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Weekday Sports!

"The motherfuckers don't even work! That's why they're out at the fuckin' game! They ought to get a fuckin' job and find out what it's like to go out and earn a fuckin' living. Eighty-five percent of the fuckin' world is working. The other fifteen come out here."
Cubs Manager Lee Elia

Who doesn't love some weekday sports? A big weekday sporting event is a great excuse for the 85% of us who normally don't make it to Wrigley every day to take some time off of work and duck out to a local bar or at least gather around a TV or computer. Today was about as wild of a sports weekday as I've ever seen. Obviously most of it revolves around the United States salvaging their World Cup hopes with a 91st minute goal. However, there was also a big hockey trade, rumors of an even bigger basketball trade, and the Brian Bannister and the freaking Royals handed pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg his first loss ever, 1-0. Oh yeah, and throughout ALL of that was a freaking ten hour tennis match at Wimbledon! A match so ludicrous that it's 5th set alone (which still isn't even finished) would have crushed the previous record for longest professional match. Fantastic stuff.

First, we gotta talk some US soccer. The Cardiac Kids do it again. I watched the Slovenia match by myself in my buddy's Omaha, Nebraska apartment. That fact did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm as I did enough cursing and celebrating for an entire roomful of people. Their propensity to give up early goals bit them again. Onyewu may be built like a mountain but he moved like one in this match as he apparently has no concept of not allowing his man acres of space to set up a shot or find a teammate. Anyway, a great second half led to a result and set up a situation where all they needed was win and they were in (although it should be noted that they were robbed of the winning goal by a completely mysterious and nonsensical call of some sort by the referee who looked about as lost and confused as I would have if they called me down from the stands).

So, today the US managed to not give up an early goal but there were still some nerve-wracking moments as Algeria did manage to hit the bar early on. Onyewu was replaced by fan whipping boy Jonathan Bornstein which made me nervous but the back four managed to hold the line today. The finishing of goal chances was as atrocious as it usually seems to be for the US but that's always great for ratcheting up the tension.

That tension in matches like this is one of the absolute best parts of soccer. It starts to build slowly then grows as one (or both) teams start to throw everything they have at the goal. For the team holding a lead every bounce of the ball is a tiny moment of fear and every shot is pure terror. For the team trying to score it's a feeling of being trapped in a box waiting to explode while ruing every missed chance and cursing every mishit ball. There are no timeouts to break up any of this and the clock is always ticking. Then to make things even more intense they're going to add a certain amount of time to the game and you have no idea if that will be enough or too much or when the final three whistle blasts will arrive.

I was still somewhat confident up until the 80th minute because the US was just getting so many chances that I really felt like they were going to get one eventually. Algeria either couldn't get the ball to the box or made the bizarre decision that they were going to play for 0-0 or hope for a lucky counterattack but they didn't really threaten the goal nearly as much. From 80-85 I was getting nervous but still thought the goal was coming. Around 85 I'm really intense and starting to curse, which, in our lab, is barely even noticed, and I'm thinking we might be screwed. I remember looking at the clock at 88 and realizing that we were really in deep shit. 89-90 and I'm already thinking about how brutal it is to bomb out of the Cup like this. 91 I'm freaking out that Algeria almost scored when I see Howard launch the ball like he's Peyton Manning and suddenly Donovan is streaking down the field. Passes it ahead, they try to the cross and I lose the ball for a moment so it looks like Dempsey kicked it right into the goalie who is covering it up. Suddenly the ball is out and I see it moments before Donovan flies in a buries it in the back. Relief, release, screaming, high fives, holy shit, they're through.

It was just such an amazing, emotional moment. All of that tension has been building and building and you know you're a minute or two away from huge disappointment. Suddenly a glimmer of hope, another soul crushing moment when the ball bounces out, then pure, unadulterated joy. And hey, thanks to the wonders of digital video we can relive it all over the country. Las Vegas. San Diego. Seattle (maybe the best because the camera was still so you can see the expressions on the faces). Washington D.C. Portland. Lincoln, Nebraska (another great one and the best at showing the tension and anticipation building.) Hey, how about from inside the stadium? Love it.

You've got to love this team. I think American soccer players are typically tougher than players from other countries because they had to grow up with people questioning them on the sport and the diving. It seems they are often personified by bloody moments like McBride in the Italy game in '06 or Dempsey in this game. They're definitely personified by guys like Donovan who has to be one of the best-conditioned athletes in the world. As maddening as their early miscues are they always seem to find a way to claw their way back into it, a virtue that has led to two of the more entertaining games in at least this World Cup, if not any of them.

So, they end up as winners of their group. In fact, I read in Grant Wahl's piece that they set the World Cup record for fewest total minutes with a lead for a group winner: 2. 2 minutes in 3 games! The previous record was Netherlands in '94 which had a total of 21 minutes. Crushed it! The benefit of the win is a date with Ghana on Saturday (ABC lucks out again and should draw massive ratings) and a potential quarterfinal pairing with the winner of Uruguay-South Korea. There are definitely no easy games at this stage of the tournament but would you rather be playing Germany then the winner of Argentina-Mexico? Yeah. It's going to be tough but I think they have a decent shot to reach the semis. It will be fun to see what they can do.

Other thoughts:
I think Bob Bradley's been making the right calls. In qualifying the US seemed so conservative all the time so it's nice to see them come out of their shell a bit (even if it's mostly been forced by circumstances). Also, his son is playing fantastic. He's earning himself a fat paycheck from somebody after the tournament is over.

The US was screwed again today on the disallowed Dempsey goal. Loved the shot of a pissed-off Bill Clinton sitting there while Sepp Blatter blathered in his ear about something. Bill should talk him into some better officiating. I'm sure he did some lobbying for a US World Cup in 2022.

I'm totally digging the British announcers. Maybe it's the "Keep Calm and Carry On" influence but they even manage to relax me over the din of vuvuzelas and are opinionated but not obnoxious about it. They have been willing to hammer the refs while still managing to reel in John Harkes who has also been doing a great job but can go overboard for the US at times.

Speaking of vuvuzelas, I can't help but crack up at the Deadspin videos showing them ruining great moments in history. I have no idea why it's so funny to me.

Well, what do you think? Anybody hopping aboard the US soccer bandwagon?

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