The HBO program True Detective came out of nowhere this spring. It jolted us to attention with conspiracy theories, humid and suffocating atmosphere, an auteurist viewpoint, a clearly stated (and therefore endlessly speculated upon) endpoint and, handily, a career-defining star turn by Matthew McConaughey, playing a character so much the exact opposite of how we had all decided to define Matthew McConaughey that it added a level of revelation to the whole enterprise, like we were watching a caterpillar sprout wings right in front of us. For about four weeks there, it was all anyone could talk about. If you didn't have HBO or weren't currently watching the show but planned to, you had to avoid all media, social and otherwise. It was the centerpiece of every conversation. We all did it as one.
And then it ended. It ended strongly, I thought, with the humanist-vs.-nihilist conflict that had driven every scene from the beginning resolved in favor of hope, and forgiveness, and life. But because the show -- which had been created in an environment that wasn't tweeting out its every quiver -- had exploded before it was finished, people were inevitably disappointed. (Spoiler alert here.) Why didn't we find out about Hart's daughter? Why didn't Rust die? So the governor of Louisiana wasn't the murderer after all? We built it up so much that no result was ever going to satisfy us. Even a good one.
Which brings me, as you might suspect, to Sunday's United States-Portugal game. It is rather clear at this point that this is becoming the American Summer of Soccer. (My Midwestern father, who wouldn't know a soccer ball from a bocce ball, texted me "USA! USA!" in the 84th minute, while pausing to ask how much time was left. He couldn't wrap his mind around that part.) Even those who have avoided the game out of general principle -- minus a few elderly, doltish exceptions -- have given themselves over to it.
The reasons for this are part patriotic -- as I've written, it's a gas to be in a room where for two hours everyone is your best friend -- but part of it is convenience. We are an On Demand society now, and right now, we can get our Hipster Patriotism straight on tap. These games are being shown at perfect times -- 6 p.m. ET, either right when everyone's getting off work or when everyone's mostly done with whatever it is they have to do -- and they're hitting a dead spot in the Casual Observer Calendar. It doesn't matter if you like soccer or not right now. If you are rejecting following the U.S. men's national team in June 2014, you are basically turning down democracy, bald eagles, Twitter and the glorious gift that is afternoon drinking. You don't have to like soccer to like soccer right now.
And this is great! This is what people who love American soccer have been hollering about for years. (And I've only recently been listening myself.) You can channel your love of country with your love of social occasions and your love of collective experiences and your love of alcohol. People like me -- who get paid to do so -- try to over-intellectualize and over-sentimentalize sport, to try to make it all IMPORTANT, but that's not the point of any of this. This is really what it has always been about: A bunch of people drinking and screaming together, as one. That's what this World Cup has been for Americans. And it has been fantastic.
And so let me take this moment to remind you that despite the crushing, epic buzzkill 95th-minute goal from Silvestre Varela that morphed a 2-1 U.S. round-of-16-clinching victory into a 2-2 draw that led to a hundred thousand droopy settlings of bar tabs, the show is not over. Rust Cohle has not wheeled himself off into the sunset. SEC football has not yet begun. The pub is not closed.
Fact is: Everything is fine! Sure, the frustration we all felt at the end of Sunday's game is still palpable. (Dammit, Bradley, just HOLD ON TO THE DAMNED BALL.) Sure, a kickass Sunday afternoon party -- full of so, so many American Screams -- finished in a way that was way sadder than you thought it was going to. Sure, the Hollywood ending that American soccer fans had begun to assume was their birthright, this time, didn't pan out exactly the way we all imagined it to be scripted.
But: It's fine. This is the second act, not the third, people. American fans all feel devastated that they didn't get the victory. But you know what the rest of the world is thinking? Holy crap, the Americans somehow tied Portugal! This result is outstanding. According to Nate Silver, the United States have a 75.8 percent chance of advancing out of the Group of Death -- the Group of Death! -- after the draw. If you would have told any United States fan going into this World Cup that the USMNT would beat Ghana and tie Portugal, they would be doing backflips. This is all we could have asked for.
Everything is coming up America. Group H, which Group G faces next, looks wobbly and beatable. The United States on Sunday played one of its best games that most longtime USMNT loyalists have ever seen; they went up against a FIFA top-five team and essentially dominated the run of play from start to finish. The surprise is not that the U.S. gave up that final-seconds goal. The surprise is that it wasn't up 5-1 at that point already. The United States was clearly the better team all evening. Against Portugal! Against Cristiano Ronaldo! This is amazing. This is revolutionary.
Obviously: That last goal hurt, a ton. But the odds say all it did was delay the festivities. The United States and Germany are tied atop Group G. A U.S. win or a draw sends them to the next round. (A win gets them the top seed.) And even if the U.S. loses -- something Silver gives them a 64 percent chance to do -- the USMNT is in outstanding position. Basically, the United States needs Portugal to beat or draw Ghana (and not to do so with a goal differential larger than five, highly improbable) or they need Ghana to beat Portugal by only one goal (though there are certain scenarios where where that could happen and the U.S. could still not advance depending on how much a potential loss to Germany would come by). These things are possible. But these things are so unlikely.
The fact is, by drawing Portugal, the United States put themselves in terrific position to advance out of the Group of Death and turn Jurgen Klinsmann's first U.S. World Cup squad into an unqualified success. It doesn't feel that way, obviously. It feels like we could have clinched it, and we didn't; it feels like we lost on a last-second shot. But this was an incredible result. This was huge, massive progress.
At this moment, with that sad scrawling of our signature on soggy bar tabs so fresh in our memories, the Round of 16 feels far away. This feels like a loss. But it wasn't. The show didn't end precisely the way we wanted it to. But then again: It didn't end. On Thursday, the USMNT is very likely to move onto the Round of 16, something few thought possible. And they will have laid the groundwork on Sunday evening, against Portugal, against one of the best players in the world. It hurts now. But suck it up. We're Americans. Adversity isn't just something we overcome; it's the whole point. On Thursday, the USMNT is going to give you another party. And no matter how sad you feel after Sunday's draw, the game that left you so empty at the end almost certainly secured you another one after that. Next Monday or Tuesday, 6 p.m. ET, you need to make plans ahead of time. And you should.
The American Summer of Soccer isn't over. Sunday ensured that it's only beginning.
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