No matter what happens the rest of this World Cup, whether the United States team loses on Tuesday against Belgium or whether it makes it through to the finals, the one thing I'll remember from this wild summer ride will be all the iPhones pointed at me and my friends.
Well, not just me and my friends. But the lasting image of this breakthrough summer for U.S. soccer -- and there's no question, at this point, that this summer will end up being known as the Summer of Soccer in this country -- ultimately won't be of Clint Dempsey, or Tim Howard, of John Brooks or even of Jermaine Jones. (Jermaine Jones has almost immediately become one of my favorite athletes on the planet.)
It'll be of this:
Or any of these:
Other American sports have fan reaction videos. (I get a little teary-eyed every time I watch this one.) But they're more curiosities than anything else, addendums rather than the main document. They're novelties. But when I think of this year's World Cup, and why it has captured the American imagination more than any other time in the sport's history, I think of those videos.
There is a certain euphoria to a goal in soccer that usurps almost any other score in any other sport. Every soccer goal is its own sort of miracle: Every World Cup goal, in its own way, changes the world. (The personality of all 22 players on the pitch is immediately altered after a goal. They're legitimately different people after every goal.) So much has to go so specifically a certain way for a goal to happen; they can be the logical result of the run of play or a lightning bolt from nowhere. They shake us: They alter reality.
And we react accordingly. We lose our minds. When John Brooks scored that goal to beat Ghana, strangers hugged strangers, fiends became friends, dogs and cats lived together, it was mass hysteria. (I got punched in the face, myself, and it was fantastic.) It was the sort of spontaneous out-of-body experience that, I've only recently come to realize, exclusively soccer can give you.
When David Freese hit his triple in the 2011 World Series, I was shocked. But I knew something was going to happen. He was either going to strike out to end the Series or get a hit to extend it. When that corner kick came into Brooks -- or when Jones, gloriously, smashed that equalizer in the Portugal game -- I had no idea it was about to go down. Suddenly, KABOOM, it had gone down. The world shook. And everything rearranged in the wake.
That's why people keep getting out their cameras. Seriously, when you get out to watch USA-Belgium in the round of 16 on Tuesday -- and you are getting out to watch USA-Belgium on Tuesday, right? -- take a moment to occasionally look around you. Somebody, somewhere, is going to have their iPhone out to capture the crowd. That's where the real show is occurring. That's what everybody wants to see.
Everybody wants to capture it. Think about that for a second. There is a sporting event going on, and the most compelling videos from it are of the people watching it, and reacting to it. In our selfie culture, it's that rare moment when we are pointing the camera outward. It is like fans pointing their phones at a concert. Something incredible is happening in front of us, and we're trying to bring it back with us.
The experience we've all been having during these games this summer has been a collective one. It's tough to find those anymore. We're all broken into our own niches, retreated into our corners, and the online world is starting to feel like it exists only to divide us. (Or expand the divides that were already there.) If we want today, we can talk to only those who agree with us, pausing only to scream epithets at those who don't. There just isn't much we do together in the year 2014. We don't spend much time hugging strangers these days.
Which is why this has felt so revelatory. To see people -- with no other bond other than that they are American -- jumping around like lunatics is addictive; these videos have only made the phenomenon more powerful. Who wouldn't want to be a part of this?
Those videos, they're so exciting. But they're not even close to what it's like to actually be there. And by "there," I mean, "just down the road from where you live." The beauty is that this has been happening in every town, at every bar. All you have to do is get out of work early enough to take part.
I want the United States to beat Belgium on Tuesday. I want them to win because they are such a likable team. I want them to win because they are Americans. I want them to win because it will be a mammoth step in this country for a sport that's has long awaited its moment, a moment that may be here. But mostly: I want the United States to win because of us. Because I don't want this to end. Because what is going on is so infectious and giddy that you want to take pictures and videos of it and show them to the whole world. Because the star, really, is all of us. Our show isn't over yet.
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