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How I almost missed the dramatic U.S. victory over Jamaica

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I received an email from Stampede Sports, the name of the indoor soccer facility where I’ve played on a team the past couple years. It was an invitation to come watch the US v. Jamaica World Cup qualifier in Stampede’s bar area, creatively dubbed “The Corral”.  The email made the event sound very exciting, including that it would be the first gathering of the Southlake chapter of the mighty American Outlaws (the US men’s national team supporters group).  I’m certainly not in the habit of watching my soccer matches in pubs or bars, primarily because I don’t drink.  But in this case I perked up since all of the US’ away qualifiers are only televised on the be In Sports channel, which I don’t get on my cable package.

So, right after I read the kids a goodnight story I threw on my US jersey from World Cup 2010 (the one with the beauty pageant sash) and headed for Stampede Sports in Southlake (about a 20 minute drive).

I arrived at “The Corral” at 8:30, just in time for kickoff, but there was no soccer on the single big screen TV hanging above the bar.  The few patrons seemed oblivious to any imminent World Cup qualifier.  There were no American Outlaws in sight.

I found a flight of stairs.  Aha!  I wasn’t aware that Stampede had an upper bar area.  The gathering must be upstairs.  I jogged up the stairs, afraid that I’d miss an early surprise goal by Clint Dempsey or more likely a squandered chance by Jozy Altidore.  Alas, no one was upstairs and the sole TV was turned off.

I jogged back downstairs.  The bartender changed the channel… to a Texas Rangers game.  I nearly broke into a cold sweat.  Did I dream up this qualifier?  It was June 7th, right?  I checked my watch to verify.

I suddenly remembered there were a couple party rooms at the far end of the arena.  Duh!  Why hadn’t I thought of those in the first place?  Surely the big watch party was there.  I jogged down to the rooms only to find them completely empty, lights turned off, doors locked.  This was not cool.

Ten minutes of the match were already gone.  I jogged to the front desk and asked where the game was being shown.  The teenaged girl manning the desk barely looked up as she replied (as if it were no big deal), “Oh yeah, we’re not showing it.  We don’t have that channel.”

“We don’t have that channel”?  Don’t have that channel?  But what about the email invitation?  What about the American Outlaws?  Why was I the only one that seemed to care that there was a crucial World Cup qualifier in progress?  I could feel my pulse in my temples.  This was turning into one of those dreams I periodically have where I’m running all over trying to find something or someone and never succeed.

I jogged back to my car without a plan.  Where could I possibly watch this game?  If I were in Europe or South America I’d probably just have to drive a couple blocks and look for a crowd spilling out of a shop or café broadcasting the game.  But not in Southlake, Texas – the ultimate suburban oasis.  If I wanted a designer latte, fancy ice cream, to see a movie, or purchase an Apple product, I’d be in business.  But finding a place to watch US v. Jamaica here on short notice?  I might as well be in the Australian outback.

I thought about calling my friend Kristian, but I was pretty sure he didn’t get be In Sports either, plus he lived in Arlington which would be another 30 minute hike from Southlake.  I thought about my friend Jim (the former professional mascot) but it was getting late, he’s working on his doctoral thesis, and his wife is pregnant with their second child, so I didn’t really want to bother him.

I hopped in my car, started driving, and dialed up the only fake person I could think to turn to:  Siri.  I asked her for Buffalo Wild Wings locations in Bedford.  I hadn’t been to a BWW in probably a decade, but I remembered they have lots of TVs.  Surely one of them was tuned to US/Jamaica.  Siri zapped me a map in a flash.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the strip mall parking lot where I thought the Buffalo Wild Wings used to be.  It was gone.  Had Siri led me astray?  I checked her map again.  No.  I was wrong – the restaurant moved in the decade since I’d been there and was now on the other side of the freeway.  I checked the time, disheartened.  It was nearly halftime already.

As I drove to the Buffalo Wild Wings I refreshed the match score on my phone… the US had scored!  I whipped into the parking lot and could already see multiple TVs tuned to the game.  Yes!

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I asked to be seated outside on the patio because the night air was unusually pleasant for north Texas in June.  I got a table and a menu just as the players left the field for halftime.  As soon as I sat down, the only other groups using tables on the patio finished up and left and I was suddenly sitting outside, in the darkness, all alone, in my US jersey.

Though I’d already had dinner and wasn’t hungry, I felt obligated to order something.  But my wife Trevlyn had me on the caveman diet, so a soda was forbidden.  I gritted my teeth and ordered an unsweet tea.  I hoped Trevlyn would forgive me for the chips and salsa I also ordered (chips aren’t caveman diet approved either).

The waitress asked me if I’d like to have the sound turned on outside.  I certainly did.  Soon, I was kicked back with my own snack, two high-def TVs, with surround sound, and a cool breeze blowing.  Did it make up for missing the entire first half?  Probably not, but it wasn’t a bad consolation.

Still, it wasn’t quite the same without any fellow fans to cheer on the US with.  I called my brother Dan, who has started his extreme busy season as a summer camp director, in the off chance that he was actually getting to watch the game live.  He’d just started watching the recording so we couldn’t discuss the action or gripe about players in real time.  He said he couldn’t stay on the phone long because he didn’t want to read any spoilers in my tone, but we started talking about Star Trek Into Darkness and ended up on the phone ten more minutes anyway.

Into darkness is exactly where I and all other true US soccer fans plunged when a victory that seemed relatively in hand disappeared with a Jamaican equalizer in the 89th minute.  I blamed Graham Zusi.  The Sporting KC midfielder lazily mistimed his jump for a header against a Jamaican player who won the ball and might have raced past Zusi had Zusi not tripped him and earned a yellow card.  The match commentators commended Zusi for a “smart” foul, but I’m not convinced the play would’ve been much of a threat had he not fouled.  Jamaica lined up the resulting free kick within easy distance of the US box.  Sure enough, the ball floated in and Jamaica’s Jermaine Beckford easily waltzed through and headed the ball into the goal past a frozen Tim Howard.

All my effort scrambling around suburbia like an obsessed treasure hunter suddenly seemed madness.  Why did the US team constantly break my heart so?  Why can’t they finish out games when they have the lead?  Why did I have to be on this wretched caveman diet when I’m not even a caveman?

As I stewed and pouted into stoppage time, the US pushed the ball up field with semi-urgency.  They earned a corner kick.  Michael Bradley played it short to Zusi, who wisely returned it to Bradley.  Bradley turned sharply toward the end line trying to beat his Jamaican marker.  Bradley looked covered but he struck a pass anyway.  Brad Evans received Bradley’s pass with his back to goal, spun and ripped a desperate shot that zipped into the upper right corner past Jamaica’s Hulk of a keeper Donovan Ricketts.

I was dumbfounded.  This.  Never.  Happens.  To.  The.  US.

I suddenly wanted Brad Evans posters for my office.  I even contemplated not cheering against him next time Dallas plays Seattle.

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Sure, a draw wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but the away win provided the US with some welcome breathing room.

I paid my bill and walked to my car.  The restaurant seemed unusually empty for a Friday night.  What a match!  The whole spectrum of sports fan emotion, dejection to elation, in under five minutes.  America doesn’t know what it’s missing.

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Klinsmann v. Donovan

Landon unwisely left out in the cold for upcoming U.S. games

Landon Donovan

Last week, US Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann released his roster for this month’s friendlies and the World Cup qualifiers in June.  The big brouhaha is his failure to include Landon Donovan on the list.

Though the team’s overhaul hasn’t materialized quite the way I hoped it would by now under Klinsmann’s guidance, I continue to give him the benefit of the doubt.  The team is a work in progress of course, but it is precisely because it’s a work in progress that it seems crazy to leave out Landon Donovan.  The team needs him during the course of figuring out the best starting eleven mix for the 2014 World Cup (and even after that’s figured out, it’s hard to imagine Donovan not being one of those starters).

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Is anyone on this latest roster – besides Clint Dempsey or perhaps Michael Bradley – currently a stronger overall player than Landon Donovan?  It’s hard to imagine Argentina leaving out Messi, or Portugal leaving out Ronaldo.  Yes, Donovan’s older than those superstars, but his leadership, stature, and quality are of parallel importance to the U.S.

I’m not sure the tension and controversy created by omitting Donovan is the kind of division you want to have when you’re about to enter the heart of World Cup qualifying.  What would’ve been the harm in putting Donovan on the roster?  It doesn’t mean you have to play him if you don’t think he’s up to par.  It seems there’s much more to lose by leaving him out.

If Donovan doesn’t make the roster later this summer for the Gold Cup, and the US makes it to the semifinals of that tournament (for which I have a ticket), I’m going to be an extremely disgruntled camper – along with a lot of other US soccer fans.

What do you think about Donovan getting left out?

Coach Klinsmann

Exploring Past and Present with U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann

Euro 2012 starts today.  In fact, Poland and Greece are battling it out in Warsaw as I write.  But don’t forget the U.S. starts their World Cup qualification journey tonight against Antigua & Barbuda!

In anticipation of tonight’s CONCACAF qualifier, check out this vintage Sports Illustrated article about Jurgen Klinsmann from 1994.  I was cleaning out some files recently and found some Sports Illustrated issues from World Cup ’94.  In SI’s World Cup preview section (yes it was just a section and didn’t even make the cover!), I was surprised to rediscover a profile of Jurgen Klinsmann who was playing for AS Monaco in 1994.  It’s a great piece and provides some insight about Klinsmann you may not have known.  There is also an amazingly ironic photograph of a decal Klinsmann had on his car at the time of Snoopy in a rowboat wondering (in German), Is it much farther to America?  Weird!

I also highly recommend USsoccer.com’s Behind the Crest series of videos, which features surprising behind-the-scenes access to the U.S. national team that you won’t find anywhere else.  One of the most recent videos gives a very interesting look at the whole team (during their recent Orlando training camp) listening over breakfast as Klinsmann announced which four guys were being cut from the squad.  There is also a well-done series profiling various U.S. national team members in the European cities where they play.  Great stuff!

What are your predictions for the U.S. v. Antigua/Barbuda match?

USA v. Mexico

Wednesday’s “friendly” ended in 1 – 1 draw

The U.S./Mexico match in Philadelphia Wednesday night was noteworthy only because it was Jurgen Klinsmann’s first match as the U.S. men’s national team coach.  Otherwise, it was a fairly sloppy game with lively patches few and far between.  Here are my match notes:

-The US starting lineup was unexciting.  Buddle over Brek Shea or Freddy Adu?   I know Adu’s not necessarily a forward, but still.  Buddle?  I thought we’d see Klinsmann begin to reinvent the wheel, even in his first game, by naming a bigger ratio of newbies to veterans.  Instead, the starting eleven was a pretty familiar bunch.

-17th min:  Fluke Mexican goal, which ricocheted off a green-shirt via corner kick.

-Interesting, old school move by Klinsmann to remove names from the back of the US jerseys.  It sends the signal that the team is rebooting.  Some seem to think it’s an unnecessarily junior league thing to do.  I kind of like it.

-The US was very drab in the first half, creating next to nothing.  Zero shots!

-It was weird to see Jose Torres out there (for the US) because I’d almost forgotten about him!  I thought he was pretty swell in World Cup 2010 so it was good to see him back.  He had a quiet first half, but showed some promise in the second.

-At halftime, ESPN’s Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman were rightfully upset by the lack of American creativity in the first half.  I agree with the frequently grumpy-seeming Lalas that there is far too much emphasis on the US somehow needing more Latin players to improve.  At a recent FC Dallas game, I even overheard a dude ask his buddy whether or not he thought the booming Hispanic population in the US would mean we’ll win the World Cup soon.  Degree of latin-ness has nothing to do with it.  I’m pretty certain soccer skill has not been detected in the genetic code in any part of the world yet.

-57th min:  Solid header by Bocanegra off a corner.  Mexican GK had to make a great diving save.  Should’ve been the equalizer!

-Overall, I expected to see a lot more US hustle since everyone is auditioning for Klinsmann.

-60th min:  Brek Shea replaced Jermaine Jones.  Juan Agudelo replaced Buddle.  The US tempo almost immediately spiked.

-61st min:  Youthful waste of a shot by Agudelo.  Sorry, but I don’t see what all the excitement over Agudelo is about.  He did make some decent passes before the night was over though.

-73rd min:  Shea slid the ball through the box from the left side to Robbie Rogers (?!) who tapped it in!  Game tied 1 – 1.

-Donovan finally woke up for the last 15 minutes.  Not sure what took so long, but his late surge was a reminder that he’s still got skill to spare.  Perhaps he’ll be unleashed to play with more freedom under Klinsmann.

-Robbie Rogers was a surprise.  I’ve never been too impressed with him, but he demonstrated potential during his short stint.

-I was most excited to see Brek Shea get some quality time.  He made the most of his trial.  What I like so much about Shea is his hustle.  He always works hard.  I think we’ll be seeing him in Brazil in three years.

-It was a good first result for the US under Klinsmann.  No one was expecting much since he’s only been on the job a couple weeks.  Still, we got to see some new faces, and we didn’t lose, so overall, a positive night.  It is refreshing and fun to see Klinsmann on the sideline.  He will be good for US soccer.

What did you think of Klinsmann’s lineup choices?  Feel free to share your thoughts below…