On the John: Cheering for the good guys

On the John

Cheering for the good guys

Originally completed June 28, 2010

Whether in South Africa, on Division Street, or anywhere in between, fans of Argentina have a lot to cheer.

The heat was powerful in my room Saturday night.

…so I pulled a blanket to the big couch near the TV, and camped out. This is usual behavior, regardless of temperature: I prefer sleeping in large spaces, and regularly sleep on one of the couches rather than my bed. I woke when Rob placed a pink sticky note on the table in front of me that read, “Germany-England, 9 am, Small Bar.”

“What time is it now?” I asked him through my eyelids.

“8:10.” And then: “If you don’t make it, we’re watching Argentina-Mexico at 1:30.”

I arrived on Division at 1:15. Rob and his friend Mike have several German friends, with whom they’d watched Germany smack England 4-1, and as Small Bar filled they went next door to the Fifty-50 to sit outside for Game 2. Mike spent a year in Mexico, and was rooting against the odds. “Argentina is fast,” Mike told me. “Really gifted, lots of athletes. Their coach was one of the greats.”

That would be Diego Maradona, Mr. Hand of God himself, the gentleman who now mans the Argentina sideline with his Don Johnson suit and hair, looking very much like the Pat Riley of soccer/football.

The outdoor crowd at Fifty-50 seemed largely pro-Mexico; the table next to us was filled with green Mexico jerseys and focused, brown faces. They spent the duration of the afternoon sweating out the game with an ear each plugged deep into cell phones and blue tooths, looking for any and everyone with whom they could cheer. One of the bus boys brought them waters, and they shouted to him in Spanish “Where’s your jersey?” He laughed, and responded: “No soy Mexicano!”

The great flocking of Argentinians was happening up the block on the other side of the Division-Hoyne intersection at an Argentine grill called Folklore. With each Argentinian goal, we flipped our heads northwest to witness the blue flags waving fierce and proud in the windows.

It was difficult, however, to determine the rooting interests of most of the Americans in attendance at Fifty-50. Where do Americans fall when their own team is eliminated? We relate ideologically to the underdog – our nation was founded on an overwhelming underdog military victory – yet as a country once coined the “hyperpower” by Hubert Verdrine, I believe we feel most at ease when the Favorite is champion.

It’s been a good year for the favorite here in the States: the Yankees, Lakers, and Duke Blue Devils are all defending champs, making good on the natural order of things, while two old school clubs – the Black Hawks and Crimson Tide – enjoyed Return To Glory seasons.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints intercepted the Super Bowl from those mighty Colts, allowing American sporting fans the relief of at least one Cinderella tale…

Any fantasy that the American slipper might fit fell Saturday afternoon in a close match against Ghana. The Ghanaians scored twice, including the game-winner in the extra session, while the U.S. could muster only a single goal on a lovely penalty kick from star Landon Donovan. ESPN cut away to American soldiers celebrating in Afghanistan on that goal, their lone celebration of the day.

The game showcased soccer/football’s knack for leaving its viewers in apoplectic shock. Ghana’s second goal was a beauty from Asamoah Gyan: with two defenders on his back as he neared the goal, the Ghanaian forward waited desperately for a foot-level bounce of the ball that would allow him an easier kick. He got the bounce and delivered the ball squarely into the net past the diving Tim Howard.

Donovan’s goal was also a stroke of brilliance: like Favre placing a pass “where only the receiver can get it,” Donovan banged the P.K. off the inside part of the post, an impossible shot to block, even if the goalie hadn’t guessed wrong by diving right.

I’d watched that game at Luke Peterson’s, an intensely passionate soccer/football fan who has missed only four World Cup games total. Five hours later, Luke would move to Los Angeles; watching the U.S.A. game in a nearly empty apartment was his last act before departure. “That was terrible,” he said after the final whistle. “We just lost to these guys four years ago! We practiced and prepared for four years and didn’t even win a game…”

I tried to console: “We won the group.”

“Doesn’t matter. You have to win at least your first game. Just brutal.”

Originally a friend of a friend, my bond with Luke tightened over the NBA. He is a Bay Area native and fanatical Warriors fan… I, of course, adore the Bulls… and though our teams meet only twice a season, we gather any time there is Big Time Basketball to be seen. One particularly memorable contest came in January when LeBron traveled to Miami, with Wade and James ending the half by matching on treys from waaaaaay down town…

Now the talk is free agency, and the drooling contingencies surrounding James, Wade, Bosh, Amare, and Joe Johnson. Some fans and critics took exception to the thought that this Gang of Five might be holding some sort of clandestine free agency summit to settle the fate of the NBA’s next four or five seasons. And why not? If it’s good enough for the global elite, it’s good enough for basketball’s mini-corporations.

Indeed. Shortly after the Americans were toast, my phone rang. It was the General, leaving his U.S.A.-Ghana post in Toronto after performing two shows there that weekend. “Rough game, dude…”

“No doubt. How’s Canada?”

“The shows were great… good turnout… I got studio time…” I heard much yelling around him. “Do you hear that?” he said. “Crazy G-20 protests going down! People in the streets, sitting on police cars, armed riot cops everywhere. I am getting video.

“Good god man!” I shouted. “Get back to America where it’s safe!”

“No kidding. These police look serious! We’re on our way.”

“That was G,” I told Luke after I hung up. “He says things are getting wild in Toronto.”

“How could we only score one goal, and on a P.K.?” he mumbled as he disconnected his television from the cable box.

Asamoah Gyan and Ghana march on. (photo: Matt Dunham/AP)

While Luke was somewhere between Chicago and L.A. and General was somewhere between Toronto and Chicago, the heat was pouring down on Division Street as we eyed the Argentina-Mexico game. Argentina took some luck on their first goal when the officials missed the offsides call on Carlos Tevez, and made some luck on their second goal when Mexico’s Ricardo Osorio bricked on a play in his own zone, kicking the ball square to a streaking Gonzalo Higuain, who intercepted the pass, juked the goalie with a Patrick Kane Cup-winning move, and dumped the ball snug into the back of the net.

Argentina pushed their lead to 3-0 in the second half on another goal from Tevez, this one a laser boot of 25 yards that streaked hopelessly past Mexico’s goalkeeper. That shot sent the folks at Folklore into an absolute frenzy as the Mexicans one table over shook their heads…

Mexico managed a goal of their own before the 90+ minutes elapsed. But that was all they would get. When the game was settled and we made our way back up Division to Hoyne, the crowd at Folklore was pouring onto the corner, waving their blue flags and chanting their chants and soaking in every bit of this Chicago heat. Two small boys in blue and white Argentina shirts seemed overwhelmed by these yelping, cheering adults looking down at them and singing, “We won! We won!” The children did not totally understand, but smiled and danced along just the same. They’ll get it one day.

Copyright 2010, jm silverstein

From June 23: Hooked by horns

Photo credit: Argie fans

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