June 12th, a day U.S. soccer fans had been waiting for four years to live through in hopes of redemption from the 2006 World Cup disappointment. It also became a day where all the die-hard fans were happy to welcome the enthusiasm of those who just figured out we were matched up against England two weeks ago. I made lots of promises about how electric the atmosphere of any place showing the games would feel, and none of the places I hopped around to would disappoint.
7:43am Finally hop off the first Orange Line train of the day at Farragut West. Though meeting two other early risers in Dupont Circle, decided to pop our heads in at Lucky Bar just to see the scene. As expected, it was completely packed to standing room only with Greek, South Korean, and a few U.S. fans who understood that it was likely to be the most in demand seat in the city that day due to being one of the few, true soccer bars.
7:55am Met our two friends at the circle to complete our morning foursome and decided on James Hoban’s to start with a beer and some coffee. Walked in shortly after South Korea’s first goal, missing it. Wrapped up there by the end of halftime to watch the second half with the three hundred or so people already posted up in the shade of Dupont Circle in front of the two jumbo screens. Made a comment about hoping there wasn’t a goal while we walked over about eight seconds before the roar of the crowd made it clear we had missed the second and final of the game. Watched the rest of South Korea’s win from the fountain and enjoyed the last of the moderate temperatures of the day.
9:50am Posted up at a table in front of the wall projector at Mad Hatter and was very pleased to learn of the specials they were running that morning. An impressive buffet complete with made to order omelets and a prime rib/roast lamb carving station with everything you could possibly imagine in between was paired with bottomless mimosas for $4.50 per hour. The bar had a nice vibe from the serious soccer crowd inside and one lone colonial fanatic. Argentina’s tame, one-nil win was a nice complement to the food and beverage.
12:27pm Headed just half a block up the street to Cafe Citron to secure our reserved tables for ten and wait for the day’s stragglers. Despite a large part of the Argentina crowd already shuffling out, there was still plenty of people standing in their booths and celebrating the victory with the DJ excitedly yelling in bursts of Spanish from his balcony. On perfect cue a half hour later, he switched the draped Argentina flag to a U.S. flag, changed from Latin music to hip hop, and began his pre-game routine of guaranteeing victory over the Brits in English. The crowd quickly grew inside as the noise rose to a crescendo fitting of the international importance of this grudge match.
2:34pm The entire bar nearly collapses on its feet as Steven Gerrard, a fine mid-fielder of my Liverpool Reds with boyish good looks, slots a ball past Howard to give us all that sinking feeling that we allowed ourselves to be set up, again.
3:09pm Bar erupts in joyous but shocked screams as Robert Green does something that will probably only be remembered in the U.S. by a select group of fans much more than two or three years from now but remembered in England perhaps for eternity depending on the outcome of Group C. I have never seen a goalkeeper muff it that badly in a World Cup match, but it was the one opportunity we were given to test Cafe Citron’s pledge to provide free shots to any fan who took off his (or her?) shirt in celebration of their team’s goal. The Cafe Citron manager, Omar, who served our large group all day and took truly excellent care of us came through on the promise and produced four shots of American whiskey for our topless lads.
4:13pm Final whistle blows and despite some fairly sloppy play, and in my opinion, total disregard for the importance of possession from the Americans, a party that feels pretty close to a victory begins in Dupont Circle. Of course it wasn’t anything like the victorious streets of Rio or Munich or London that I have dreamed of experiencing since I was a kid, and I am sure didn’t hold a candle to Auckland at 4am this past Sunday morning, but it was a nice first for me to have people flooding the streets over the game I love in my home country. I consider it a preview of what I can expect regularly by the time my kids are my age, and we have had more than one generation grow up with soccer and take us to the heights of the sport that we are accustomed to in international athletic competition.
(The rest of the day The post-party silliness of that day would get much more intense with another Chipotle visit, the PRIDE parade, and an absurd walk home with a new friend, but more on that later.)
Present Day The Slovenia game was four days ago now and the weakest team in the group is standing between the U.S and the round of 16. It is upsetting to be sitting at 2 points in the group when we should be at 4 and leading, but we shouldn’t have created a situation where we needed that comeback anyways, great as it was to watch. However, tomorrow we are going to enter the situation which makes all the casual fans who complain about first round ties shut their traps, because few things are as intense as the final game of group play when there are still three to four possibilities to decide who is coming out of more than half of the groups. So, of course, if the U.S. was sitting pretty on 4 or better yet 6 points, I would gladly embrace it. Honestly though, this is where we live, somewhere in the middle of greatness and mediocrity, with far from a chip on our shoulder. However, I will take the momentum that built in the final twenty minutes of the Slovenia match and what needs to be there tomorrow if it means being hot headed into a match up against Germany or Ghana… or Serbia… or Australia (see how great round robin play is). This team seems to get what it takes though, and they are going to draw on that match against Egypt last year to get through in the Confederations Cup in knowing how to put away a game when they have to or else. Therefore, do yourself a favor tomorrow; take that long lunch or fake a dentist appointment to watch it in a place where everyone else is feeling that same tension as the matches play out simultaneously. Perhaps it will even surprise you to care about it beyond just beating our Revolutionary War rival.
(Best part of this commercial is how much GW looks like Mrs. Doubtfire behind the wheel.)