Celebration time is now for US fans
Posted: Thursday, June 24, 2010 5:46 pm
By: By CHRIS JENKINS, AP Sports Writer
They celebrated the U.S. team’s big moment in bars, restaurants and office cubicles from coast to coast, die-hard soccer supporters and curious casual fans united as they shouted, sang and even sobbed with joy.
Farshid Niroumand celebrated in solitude.
Niroumand, who coached U.S. star Clint Dempsey in high school, watched Wednesday’s monumental World Cup victory over Algeria at his home in Nacogdoches, Texas, a city of 31,000 about 180 miles southeast of Dallas.
“I don’t want anybody to see my emotion — yell or scream, or maybe use the wrong language,” Niroumand said.
That might have been for the best, as Dempsey had a goal disallowed on a questionable offside call in the first half, an agonizing miss from point-blank range in the second half and even was hit in the face, leaving his lip bleeding.
All that frustration was wiped away when Landon Donovan rifled a rebound from Dempsey’s attempted shot into the back of the net in stoppage time. The 1-0 victory over Algeria saved the Americans from elimination and sent them into the second round for a game Saturday against Ghana.
Halfway across the world, a surprisingly large chunk of a country that doesn’t typically pay much attention to soccer was yelling itself horse.
“When they scored that goal, I thought the roof was going to come off this place,” said Joe White, manager of the Royal Mile bar in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. “It was just crazy.”
It was a galvanizing moment for U.S. soccer, one that could help the game elbow its way further into the American sports mainstream.
“It’s amazing,” said former U.S. player Claudio Reyna, speaking before NBA star Steve Nash’s Showdown In Chinatown charity soccer game.
“You can see the lift it gives the sport. Every four years there’s so much pressure to do something, and they were able to do it. Especially this World Cup, because of the group, the expectations were that they would get out, and they’ve done it. It’s a great achievement.”
Former U.S. player Tab Ramos said no one could have written a better script.
“The popularity of soccer in this country has been growing slowly and steadily over the years, not just waiting for this event,” Ramos said. “But this is a world event, and games like today make soccer in this country just a little bit bigger.”
Ramos said the U.S. has taken dramatic steps forward on the field, particularly on offense.
“This U.S. team is very different, because when we get the ball to the middle of the field, we have three or four guys who can score,” Ramos said. “It’s exciting for all of us to watch a team with so many offensive weapons. Offensively, no question, this is the best team we’ve had. We’ve come a long way. It’s been a long time coming and it’s nice to see.”
Walter Bahr, who played on the 1950 World Cup team that beat England 1-0, watched Donovan’s heroics on TV at his home in Boalsburg, Pa.
“That was terrific,” he said.
The frantic finish led to an explosion of joy at places like the Highbury, a soccer-themed bar in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood.
Highbury patron Carl Witkowski declared that he has cried only three times in his life.
“When I got married, when I saw my son was born,” said Witkowski, who wore his blue No. 17 Jozy Altidore jersey to watch the match. “And today.”
Witkowski, a correctional officer for the state of Wisconsin, called the U.S. team a bunch of “blue-collar schlubs” — and meant it as a term of affection.
And while military references can be overdone in the sports world, Witkowski — who was shot in the chest while serving as an Army Airborne Ranger in Afghanistan in 2004 — said Wednesday’s game was about more than just sports for him.
“We have a team that plays with heart, and really is the best representative of our country,” Witkowski said. “They embody the American spirit. Who expected us to win in 17-(freaking)-76?”
An hour after the big win, Highbury patrons still were embracing, singing and dancing on the bar. James Brown’s “Living in America” was blasting on the sound system.
Not everybody who wanted to watch was able to skip work, of course, leading to lost production akin to what happens in the U.S. during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament each March.
Jayme Joers, a clerical assistant at a law firm in Cincinnati, had to make due with an Internet feed at her desk. Pushing the limits of the office’s business-casual policy, she wore her U.S. jersey and a blue headband to work while her “very understanding” co-workers even brought her some heartburn medicine.
“I tried really hard to be quiet,” she said. “But as the game progressed, I couldn’t.”
On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited is she about the win?
“I’m like a ’12,”’ she said. “All I want to do is just run around and celebrate.”
AP Sports Writers Rachel Cohen, Luke Meredith and Michael Marot, Associated Press Writers Schuyler Dixon and Matt Moore and AP freelance writer Jim Hague contributed to this story.