Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kicking balls, American style

I'm immersed in one of my most patriotic streaks of recent memory, watching the plucky USA soccer team maneuver its way through the World Cup. Only a few hours till kickoff in the round of 16, and though Ghana will hardly be a pushover (especially with the whole of Africa behind them), there's no reason the US shouldn't be able to avenge the loss from 2006.

(By the way, do the Americans really not have a cool team name like the Ghana Black Stars or the Algeria Desert Foxes... even the Australia Socceroos? I know the US rugby team is called the Eagles, which is OK, I guess. But nothing for this up-and-coming soccer team, really?)

The USA is an extremely fun team to cheer for, in the same way the "Cardiac Kings" were in the early-auts. They're unfavored, but full of heart. They play hard and could potentially win any game. They just need to cut down on the catastrophic lapses that lead to easy goals, and shake their bizarre preference to play the best when they're down a goal (or two!).

The New York Times says we are witnessing the emergence of a new "American style" of soccer, one that is brasher, bolder, and dismissive of convention. When Landon Donovan blasted that shot right over Slovenia's keeper's shoulder in Game 2, writes Times soccer blogger Jesse Pennington:

"A kind of American impatience with custom and formality brought forth a different sensibility, a bit more roguish one. Think Indiana Jones blatantly disregarding politesse by scoffing at (and then shooting) the scimitar-wielding thug in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Think Han Solo blasting down Greedo in the “Star Wars” cantina before the green dude knows what hit him."

(I'll skip the complaints about getting soul-fucked by the ref in that game, because it ultimately had no bearing on anything. But that game did encapsulate everything that's so fun about cheering for this team.)

The Algeria game was amazing. And all the American naysayers, if there are in fact still any, needed only to witness the thrilling end to understand how riveting this sport can be. Crowds all across America certainly understood.

Sipping a brew called American Pale Ale at a microbrewery in Singapore -- Brewerkz on Clarke Quay, which has posters of Sierra Nevada Celebration and Anchor Steam adorning the walls -- we went nuts. Classic explosion of excitement, jumping up to high-five the strangers to either side of you. It was pandemonium for the 100 or so of us crammed in there. A spontaneous chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" erupted and I unabashedly and earnestly joined in, probably for the first time in my life

And now I'm off to watch the next game, kicking off at some absurd hour (2:30am). It kills the sleep patterns, but there's something exciting about staying up till dawn watching global sporting events. Go USA!

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