Millions of Americans were 27 seconds away from having the perfect weekend.
If you're a soccer fan, heck, even if you aren't, chances are you tuned into the USA versus Portugal game Sunday. And while a tie is still a pretty decent finish against the Portuguese, it was heartbreaking nonetheless. It appeared the USA was going to pull off a remarkable upset, but in the last remaining seconds of extra time, Portugal scored and the game ended in a draw.
While the near upset and stunning finish were enough to leave any soccer fan feeling like they'd just stepped off a high-velocity rollercoaster, even more shocking was the atmosphere at sports bars around the country -- including the one I happened to be at, The Boneyard.
Perhaps "shocking" isn't quite the right word anymore. Pleasantly surprised seems fitting though. Up until recently, soccer in the US has had a somewhat limited following. But suddenly, it's as if a giant light bulb came on over the country, and Americans are all in.
Considering international soccer superstars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo make tens of millions of dollars and zip around the world on their private jets with supermodels on each arm, and you can frequently run into Kyle Beckerman (who plays for Real Salt Lake and starts for the US team) at Whole Foods, it's safe to say we still have a ways to go when it comes to our adoration for the game and its players. But we're getting there. And it's a beautiful thing.
The atmosphere at my neighborhood pub, as well as countless sports bars around the country, was nothing short of jubilant. Complete with painted faces, flag-inspired clothing and chants of "I believe that we will win!"
Volcanoes don't erupt with the power that bar did when the US scored its second goal late in the game. Even those entirely new to the sport, asking questions about why there are no timeouts and saying things like, "We need a point!" were ecstatic. You didn't need to know the lingo or rules to be electrified by the crowd and pledge a spontaneous and eternal allegiance to the beautiful game.
I'm not sure when or why soccer got cool in the US. It's been fairly recent and some attribute it to recent recession. Which might seem odd, but considering how much it costs to keep your kids in football, hockey, baseball and other sports, it does make sense. I've been to enough third-world countries to see how the game can be improvised. A few wadded up plastic bags with a string around them for a ball and sugar cane stalks to mark the goal. Soccer is a sport even the poorest on the planet can play.
Perhaps that's why there is no cultural practice more global than soccer: It has more followers than any one religion. It is more universal than any one language. And during the World Cup, over three BILLION people act in unison and watch the action. When was the last time half the planet did anything simultaneously?
I'd go as far as to say no other sporting event in the world comes close to matching the spirit of the World Cup. Sure, the Olympics get a lot of attention, but its countless competitions and overly choreographed ceremonies can never generate the unifying, universal passion of the World Cup. (When was the last time you experienced standing-room only at a bar to watch a swim meet?)
Even the United Nations is jealous of soccer's uniting force. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan once noted: "The World Cup makes us at the United Nations green with envy. As the pinnacle of the only truly global game, played in every country by every race and religion, it is one of the few phenomena as universal as the United Nations."
And it's exciting to see Americans getting into the spirit with such unadulterated enthusiasm.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.