I’m sitting at a bar named Tap 33 on the corner of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles. I’m 5,000+ miles away from where I was just a short 36 hours early. I’m somewhat delirious; however, the spirit of American soccer and the $10 pitchers of Coors Light are helping me cope with my jet leg and yearning for the FIFA Fan Fest.
It was a long journey back to the United States, 22 hours or so, but I had never been so excited to be on American soil. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my time at the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, I most certainly did. But all great things must eventually come to an end. After finding myself in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet for 17 plus days, I must admit that I was yearning for a slice of Americana, not another serving of the Maracanã.
Tap 33 in Hollywood, one of the most highly rated soccer bars in the Los Angeles area, provided just the sliver of America I had been waiting for. It was loud, boisterous, and full of semi-drunk hooligans who had embraced the world’s game in the same way that I had in Brazil.
I mentioned in my first piece on The American Pitch that I was going to the World Cup not only to experience one of the greatest sporting events on earth, but to also find my soccer fandom and to come back to the Unites States with a true appreciation for why the world was so crazy about this simple game. I had two true goals on this trip. The first was to cross the number one item off of my sports bucket list. The second was to add another true member to Sam’s Army and to help lay the foundation for the future success of American soccer.
I apparently was not alone in this pursuit. American fans turned up by the truckload to support their national team and their country. Not only did fans show up in a big way at home, but American soccer fans made their presence known in Brazil. Americans bought the second most tickets of any country, Brazil won that battle, and I can say from first hand experience that Sam’s Army and the American Outlaws left their footprints on the sport in Brazil.
What I saw in Rio de Janeiro at the FIFA Fan Fest, on the beautiful Copacabana beach, was astounding. Americans had come to this gorgeous oasis not to vacation, but to support their national team. They did so in a fashion that rivaled and possibly surpassed any other country in the tournament, including the host nation. American flags filled botecos and tiled sidewalks from Botofogo to Ipanema to Lapa, and that was just on a normal Thursday night when the US wasn’t playing. To say that Americans embraced the sport in Rio and around the country of Brazil would be an absolute understatement.
I had an internal conversation with myself on one of the many sleepless nights in Rio about what it would take for the US to win a World Cup. As I had wondered aloud in my first piece, I once again thought about the chicken versus the egg conundrum. I had said previously that the fans of the USMNT needed to build a massive fan base of true diehards before they could transition into a true soccer powerhouse. I thought that the US needed to build a foundation much like the Seattle Seahawks had done in the NFL.
Well, I believe I was a bit naive. In fact, I was very naive. We already have the fan base. The 17 days in Rio proved to me that the United States has fully embraced the worlds game and that the foundation has already been laid for longterm success. It may be tougher to see in the United States when we’re all spread out from sea to shining sea. It’s a heckuva lot easier to see with your owns eyes when the collective spirit of American soccer congregates on the beaches of Rio to watch a game in unison. It was made crystal clear to me how many passionate fans of the USMNT there are and how much they’re willing to give to their team and their country. I’ll never be able to forget seeing the celebration that followed John Brooks’ goal against Ghana. I’ll never be able to shake the goosebumps of being in that moment with thousands of other Americans and singing our hearts out to “Back in Black”, “We Will Rock You”, and Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
My feelings about the state of soccer in the United States were clear as I hopped on my plane from Rio de Janeiro to Houston. I didn’t need to be convinced any further that our country is ready to be a powerhouse. However, I was provided more evidence as I stood at Tap 33 in Hollywood. I showed up to the bar a solid hour before the kickoff between USA and Belgium. I was too late. I was relegated to standing in the main bar area, surrounded by soccer hooligans, with a beer in one hand, a pitcher on the bar in front of the gentleman who graciously allowed us to steal his space, and a double Jack Daniels and Diet Coke waiting for me if extra time was in the cards.
The entire bar, and for that matter the entire block of Hollywood and Vine, was overflowing with American flags and USMNT kits from the past two decades. Everyone at Tap 33 was ready to go 45 minutes before kickoff. You would have thought we were preparing for the Super Bowl. The fans, as I found out, were intelligent about the game. They knew when to cheer, when to boo, and when to get royally pissed off. They knew how special Tim Howard‘s performance was. They knew how fantastic DeAndre Yedlin looked every time he blew past the Belgium back line. They knew how devastating Chris Wondolowski‘s miss in the 92′ minute was. These fans, 5,000 miles away from the mecca of football, understood the game in a way that would have been impossible just four short years ago.
We all know what happened. The USA lost in extra time. I indeed had to down that Double Jack and Diet. I may have spilled a little bit celebrating Julian Green‘s superb first touch in World Cup play. I may have spilled a little bit, or a lot, more of it as Clint Dempsey‘s magical attempt in the closing minutes was turned away by Thibaut Courtois.
It was a devastating loss. It was the USMNT’s second straight time losing in extra time in the knockout round. It was crushing. And you know what? At the end of the day it didn’t truly matter. Of course it would have been exhilarating to move on to the Quarterfinals to face Argentina. However, the United States of America proved a point to the world that they can compete at the highest level and the foundation for future success has been laid. We’re a sleeping giant. The rest of the world knows it and they’re freaking terrified. We may not win the World Cup in 2018, 2022, or 2026, but now success is EXPECTED from our national team. We’re at that level. That, more than anything, is what I will take away from my World Cup experience. The future is now.
If you’ll allow me to close on a more introspective note. Heading to Rio for the World Cup was a once in a lifetime experience that will live on within me for the rest of my life. The sights, sounds (however frightening sometimes), and memories of the my 17 days in Brazil are mine to cherish and remember. The FIFA Fan Fest, the people, the visuals of the breathtaking Maracanã, the experience of discovering the favelas, or the panoramas from Christ the Redeemer. They are all engrained into me now.
The World Cup is unique because it is an event that is truly global. There is nothing like it, except for perhaps the Olympics. It brings the world together for one moment every four years. It also acts as a barometer for where you country is competitively with the rest of the world. However, experiencing the World Cup first hand, being completely out of my element, and traveling thousands of miles away from home also acted as a barometer for myself. I learned a ton about who I am, about the world around me, and about people from all different countries and backgrounds. It was equal parts mind blowing and terrifying. However, I am so much better for having experienced it. I encourage you all, if you have the opportunity, to go explore the world, especially if you can do it with amazing friends in an incredible location for an event unlike any other.
Lastly, I’d like to thank the people of Brazil for embracing us so warmly and for allowing me to return to America unscathed (other than a little pickpocketing mishap). Also, to the Brazilian fan at the Maracanã who spotted a Canadian flag, went up to the man holding the flag, and yelled in English “Boo Canada, Go USA!!!!” I would personally like to thank you for making my trip. You’re more than welcome to stay at my house when the US inevitably hosts the World Cup in 2022 after Bill Clinton convinces FIFA to tell Qatar to politely sit in a corner and think about what it’s done.
Until then, GO USA! Enjoy the 4th of July and celebrate the heck out of living in America. Join me in singing the greatest rendition of the National Anthem ever performed.
Take it away Mr. Marvin Gaye!