Kicking and Screaming

Confederations Cup, Part I

Non-lessons from Steven Seagal

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This past week was painful for me as a US soccer fan. In the most recent Confederations Cup, a World Cup tournament starring the top teams of each continent, as well as the previous World Cup winner and next year’s World Cup host, the US had a tough division.

We started by getting clubbed by Italy, watching Giuseppe Rossi, an American posing as an Italian score two goals on us. Then we played Brazil close for around 8 minutes. After watching the US’ run-up to this tournament, these results were not too surprising, especially with Brazil playing as well as I’ve seen them in the last 5 or 6 years. On top of this, we throw in two red cards for poor fouls. It is not the referee’s fault that someone is ejected for slide-tackling at the knees 2 seconds after the ball is played away.

In a matter of days, my view of the national team had been cemented. And nothing could change that...could it? Up next was Egypt. In my mind beating Egypt is no ego boost.

The US is a team that I can’t let go of the darkside of my mind. Back in World Cup 2002, when they made that run into the quarterfinals of the tournament, I remember blocking my work calendar each game morning for hours. Then there was the game I was jumping up and down with each goal while my wife tried to sleep. That was the last time I can remember being fully on the bandwagon...and the last time she let me watch soccer in bed. Even when they lost to Germany that year, in the back of my mind I always knew they couldn’t beat them. They had great opportunities, and could’ve won, but at the same time, it still had an adult vs. kids feeling.

Four years later, the US pretty much embarrassed themselves by their play in World Cup 2006. No amount of excuses could cover how unenjoyable they were to watch. Sitting at a sports bar, watching with a total of 15 soccer fans, I wanted to leave 30 minutes into their first game. I should have, and then not turned back for the rest of the tournament.

The team’s next steps recently have been to get beaten soundly by Costa Rica, and then slipping by Honduras. We’re talking about teams that have no business on the world stage. I’ve always thought that until the US starts taking care of business home and away in their qualifying games, then and only then, will they start to garner widespread respect. Otherwise, we’re just as likely to witness World Cup 2002 as we are World Cup 2006.

So, that brings us to Egypt. Soccer round-robin tournaments are fun, in that the final games of group matches play at the same time. That way, you can only minimally scoreboard watch. Each goal matters, and this adds a layer of intrigue, even to the most out-of-reach conclusions, like the US qualifying for the semifinals of this Confederations Cup. So, I opted to watch Italy vs. Brazil. World Cup champs versus my favorite team. From the onset, Brazil showed why they are closing in on peak form. Attacking from every angle, speed, touch, creativity. You name it, they play it. And it’s all 11 players, not just the front 3 or 4.

So, while Brazil laid waste to Italy, the score updates of the US-Egypt game came in: 1-0, 2-0, 3-0. And that was it, US qualification for the semifinals, and the chance to play Spain, the best team in the world since the World Cup.

And here lies my pain. With all my heartache over the US national team recently and over the last 8 years, how can I be excited about them advancing by beating Egypt, while losing to the two world powerhouses? And then to face Spain, who just as easily could put 5 up on us in the first half, with the way we’ve played.

During Steven Seagal’s mega-movie-star phase in the late 80’s/early 90’s, at least three of us can agree that he had many memorable moments – quotes, fights, and just overall classic scenes. One of my favorites was in the movie Hard to Kill, where Seagal plays recovering coma-cop Mason Storm. He lipsticks a note on the bathroom mirror in the corrupt Governor’s mansion that reads “Anticipation of Death is worse than Death itself”.

The chubby bald henchman reads this, tries to run away to escape his fate, but instead finds Mason Storm, providing a not so happy ending for this character.

As I contemplate the upcoming US soccer games, have I become that chubby bald guy? Do I know too much to sit patiently in anticipation as they face these powerhouses? Every instance of adversity for the US team, I’ve run for the hills. Poor choices of players, poor showings against bad teams, poor showings against good teams. You name it, I’m huffing and puffing. So, how am I to feel knowing that Spain is coming around the corner? I want the US to do well, but I’ve played sports long enough to know when victories can only mask huge issues for so long. And beating Egypt doesn’t change the fact that over the last 2 months, they haven’t been very good.

What if though, the US beats Spain? What if they come out and stand toe-to-toe, as much as they can, and get a good result? Can the chubby bald guy stop anticipating death long enough to enjoy the rest of his life, albeit 3 minutes, 27 seconds? Can I, as a US soccer fan, stop anticipating an embarrassing loss, long enough to enjoy the fact that the team qualified for the semifinals of a major international tournament?

And hey, maybe just maybe, after this victory against Spain, I can go into the game against Brazil, not worrying that we’re not good enough to be on the same field. Instead, be excited about the run the team has had over the last week. Let’s all hope my will doesn’t get tested this afternoon with a 3-0 loss.