By Matt Nestor
I will readily admit that I had no clue what was happening. Strategies, substitutions, timing. All of it was lost on me.
But there I sat, as time winded down, on the edge of my seat. What was going to happen? Who was going to win?
I’ve caught World Cup fever. And I’m not really sure how I even contracted it.
I’ll be the first to say that I have never really cared for soccer. I never really played it growing up. I didn’t really understand what the sport was, short of just trying to kick the ball into the net.
I’ve never been in the “soccer is not a real sport camp,” like a lot of people in this country were at one point. But I also have not been caught in the rise in popularity over the last five to seven years. I didn’t get it, and the sport just wasn’t for me.
I have come to appreciate soccer players more as I grow older. Especially seeing some games on the high school level over the last few years. These are great athletes who have to be in good shape to play.
But there I was, on a Sunday afternoon, as nervous as I am when I watch any other game that involves my favorite teams, as the United States team clung to a 2-1 lead against Portugal, trying to advance to the round of 16.
It was a great game, much more exciting than any soccer game I have seen before. Portugal scored quick to take the lead. Then, both teams missed multiple opportunities over the next 60 minutes or so, thanks to good goaltending and some luck.
The Americans tied the game on a great goal by Jermaine Jones, who seemingly bent the laws of physics, gravity or something with a strong kick from probably 25 yards out or more that somehow was both laser fast and bent like a 12-6 curveball.
Then, late in the contest, a hobbling Clint Dempsey took a great pass from Graham Zusi to give the Americans the lead. With only 10 minutes left, it appeared the Americans were in great shape to move on.
Some things got lost on me during the course of the game. Portugal was plagued by offsides penalties, especially late in the game. I don’t know how they were offsides, but that is because I don’t know the rules of soccer. Then, 5 minutes were added to the game, something else that is a bit lost on me, though I assume it is to make up for the down time during a running clock when players are hurt, substituted, etc.
Portugal used every bit of those 5 minutes, scoring on a miraculous goal seemingly at the end of the game. A soccer fan friend of mine said it was like a Hail Mary at the end of a football game being caught for the touchdown.
Just like that, the Americans have to put their dreams to rest for the time being. They have a game against Germany on Thursday, and Portugal plays Ghana. The results of both games will determine who moves on from what is called the “group of death” to the knockout round of 16.
I’m sure some of this could be akin to Olympic fever. You know how it goes, where every four years you find yourself watching luge, diving, speed skating or track and field and find yourself rooting hard for your country. That surely has something to do with my World Cup fever.
But it was also an exciting game. Much more exciting than anything I knew soccer had to offer. With that kind of drama, I can understand why there are so many passionate fans around the world.
I don’t know if soccer has a new convert. When the World Cup is done, I don’t know if I will turn on a Major League Soccer or Premier League game to get my fix.
I do know that on Thursday, however, I plan on being planted in front of a TV, on the edge of my seat, watching the U.S. take on Germany with a chance to do what most thought impossible before the Cup started: move on to the next round.
Share your thoughts with Matt Nestor via e-mail at email@example.com.
From the June 25-July 1, 2014, issue