Like every other soccer fan in America, I have been on an extended nitrous oxide high today, following Landon Donovan’s instantly epochal, last-last-last-ditch winner against Algeria. American soccer fans are an emotionally febrile and volatile breed, due to decades of emotional abuse. Today’s victory hit us all pretty hard. In the moments after the USA (The White Buffalo? At last?) clinched advancement to the World Cup’s next round, Donovan was crying. I was crying. My wife was crying. Everyone was basically having a mass collective orgasm/sob/consciousness-raising on Twitter. This team tortures us beyond belief, but this time the ending was happy, and we didn’t even have to leave a $50 tip.
I was going to channel all the vim and ecstasy into one hellacious blogpost celebrating the team’s particular Americanness. As in so many things, George Vecsey of The New York Times does it better than I could ever hope. Vecsey even quotes the neo-Whitmanesque sage DaMarcus Beasley (?!) on our National Character: “We bring something to the table, the American people as a whole.”
Well, hell’z yeah. That we do. And this team, as Donovan said in his trademark squeaky grown-up voice in the post-game interview, embodies that something in many ways. Call it, perhaps, a protean, republican spirit of inclusion through merit. The pile-up on Donovan after his goal involved Hispanic dudes, white dudes, black dudes—even a Scottish dude. It was a fleshy amalgamation produced by a country that has always been polyglot and multihued. As my colleague and teammate Andrew Guest—who is in South Africa, blogging his mind out for Pitch Invasion—pointed out in a fascinating analysis, 60 percent of the USA’s preliminary squad players had parents born overseas. And yet you couldn’t unearth a more prototypically American group of guys at any mall in the nation.
Our republic’s best asset and finest quality is its capacity for fusion. Today’s decisive goal began with a brilliant quarterback-style lob from Hungarian-American Jersey kid Tim Howard to sort-of-Canadian Cali boy Landon Donovan, who slid it forward to another New Jerseyan, Haitian-American Jozy Altidore. Everyone’s favorite word for Altidore is “raw,” by which I think people mean he makes really bad decisions on the ball quite frequently. The kid is part bull, though, and this time he muscled into the box and cut it to Clint Dempsey, a Texan who claims his parents sold some of their guns to finance his youth soccer career. UNITED STATES! UNITED STATES! Dempsey jabbed, the fine Algerian ‘keeper parried, and Donovan lashed it home.
See? Fusion. We’ve heard a lot about “real American” this and “real American” that over the last couple of years, and lately certain polities have indicated that people should be prepared to show their papers to prove that they are, indeed, real Americans. Offering no further comment on that nonsense, I would submit that this goal, among its many fine qualities, was real, real American.
I was going to append these rambling observations with a hearty and profane dismissal of all the talk-radio blatherheads and Jurassic daily newspaper columnists in this country who have slagged off the sport of football over the years. But, y’know, victory leaves me in a benevolent mood. I hope those guys (they’re all guys) watched today’s game and enjoyed it. Maybe a few will weigh the error of their misspent past and join us, the Soccer People, on the right side of history. (We’ll become less annoying in the future—but not today.) Fusion, right? Fusion.
Now, it’s all-in for the group rounds. We’re in a bracket with Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea. Anything can happen.
For more on the strange psychological netherworld of the American soccer fan, check out my book, The Renegade Sportsman.