Monday, August 23, 2010

A Soccer Fan All Over Again: U.S. vs. Brazil

Today: Paul recounts the U.S. vs. Brazil soccer match that he and his friend Ryan saw earlier this month.

I'm what you would call a casual soccer fan. I enjoy watching a game from time to time, but I never follow it closely or really understand the difference between the numerous leagues that play in Europe, Latin America and the U.S. or what they really have to do with each other.

Every four years, however, I become like a lot of my countrymen and take a liking to the game. Some of my best memories from college were meeting my friend Tom at 6 in the morning, bagels and coffee in hand to watch early round World Cup action. 

So when my friend Ryan, who is a serious soccer fan, said he could get tickets to an international friendly between the U.S. and Brazil, I jumped at the opportunity.  He came to Brooklyn from Columbus, and we took the bus to New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey to watch the game.

As soon as we got to the parking lot a few hours before the game, I immediately I felt somewhat inadequate.  Tens of thousands of people (including Americans) grilling out, drinking heavily and kicking the soccer ball around. I realized at that moment that I didn't even know the names of the players on either teams' roster, much less would I be able to tell you for which team they played.

We wandered around, looking for the promised American Outlaws tailgate party (that's the fan club that my friend belongs to) but found none in the vicinity. It was very clear from the invitation that it was in Section J of the parking lot. We soon realized, however, that was like saying it's somewhere in a five-square-mile radius.  We walked for a good 15 minutes or so but found no formal party and settled for a cook-out by some early-20-something dude who happened to belong to the American Outlaws Pittsburgh chapter. They saw my friend's shirt and invited us over for a beer.

I've got to hand it to these guys, if the level of drunkenness of fans at a game is an indicator of the seriousness with which the populace takes the sport, then these guys and all the surrounding tailgates were putting soccer right up there with baseball and football. (That's right- football is football and soccer is soccer.  Deal with it, international community!)

There was a game of flip cup that was international in scope, with Brazilians on one side of the table and Americans on the other. There was a large circle of guys passing a soccer ball around that I was awkwardly included in. The awkwardness for me came from the fact that these guys seemed to play soccer on some adult level and (due to the fact that they were three sheets to the wind) didn't seem to realize that I do not.

The excitement level only increased as game time neared. As an Ohioan, the only thing that I can compare this to would be tailgating at a Buckeye game. I was impressed. We watched an ill-advised game of chicken -- ill advised since (a) it was grown men on each others' shoulders, (b) they were wasted and (c) they were on top of pavement, not in a pool.  Luckily, not one person got seriously hurt, although someone landed on the flip cup table professional-wrestling style and sprayed Keystone Light everywhere. It was about time head to the game.

We got in the stadium and the sound level was amazing -- just constant excitement. No vuvuzelas needed. As the game started, things settled down a bit with people confining their aggression to the call-and-response cheers you might hear at a college football game. Otherwise, they closely followed the action.

After the first half, with Brazil up 2-0, things got kind of ugly and bitter. The chants became a little meaner in scope, such as the crowd pointing at the Brazilian section and saying things like "Thi-rd Wor-ld."

In the end, the U.S. was bested by a superior team, but I came away with the revelation that yeah, people in America are serious about soccer. And not just hipsters or immigrants, but regular joes too. Can't wait 'til the next World Cup when I can become a soccer fan again.

Paul blogs about our quest to read a biography on every president of the United States on Presidents By the Book.

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