Clint Irwin swept up by the wave of World Cup euphoria ... finally
I take back what I wrote. This World Cup is too much fun to act detached, and too entertaining to be some professorial neutral. I’ve been 'ooh-ing' and 'ah-ing' and doing that thing everybody does when a shot from distance just misses the goal. I can’t help it. Soccer does this to me.
The opening match between Brazil and Croatia was a bellwether. Kaka was there on my television, but not on the field. Left out by his own nation, the top player of his generation, but nonetheless, he was there, decked out in his country’s kit, cheering wildly as his countrymen overcame Croatia in the first match.
Lucas Piazon, much younger, though still on the margins of the Seleção, was there too, not in the VIP section but instead posting selfies with the masses.
If the opening match wasn’t enough, Ruud van Nistelrooy kept referring to his native Dutch team with the personal 'we'. Even the real analysts couldn’t resist.
Kaka, Lucas and Ruud made me take a long, hard look in the mirror. Why am I trying to be so cool? Why am I resisting the scorching waves of irrational nationalism from lapping over me? Honestly, I didn’t know what I was trying to prove.
The subsequent matches again forced me to choose sides, to wear my fandom in a way I rarely do. I have no rational reason why I wanted Iran to defeat Nigeria, but it happened and I couldn’t control it. All of these matches were simply a rehearsal for the intensity of the passion I had watching the American team.
Each lead-up to the matches was relentless. Everyone’s behind the team. Celebrities were tweeting their well-wishes, my friends were calling me “un-American” after my first article, and the 'I Believe' chant was like a catchy pop song I couldn’t get out of my head. The pressure to be a part of it all was immense.
I couldn’t resist, especially after the first match against Ghana. The players were no longer just my peers. This was Team USA, and I’m an American. So when Dempsey put in one of the fastest goals in World Cup history, I had no hesitation going wild. I reverted immediately to the flag-waving, the rambunctious living room celebrations and the shared communal experience.
When Ghana equalized late on, it was disappointing. Not from some removed tactical sense but because I desperately wanted the United States to win. I was invested. It felt like I was in goal and had gotten scored on myself.
Then, when John Anthony Brooks headed in Graham Zusi’s corner there was pandemonium in my living room. My roommates and two friends who were over embraced in the center as we celebrated like many Americans around the world did. We had won.
There was no holding back and there never should’ve been. We watch and I play this game because it’s fun; it brings us together. And after exiting the Group of Death, still breathing, I believe.