"Still goalless in Soccer City," an announcer reminded the capacity crowd at Bowery Stadium. It was halftime of the World Cup finals, and I'd come to this Nike-sponsored "creative space" expecting to report on the sports-spectating habits of the Kenmare set. Two weeks earlier, I'd spotted Purple Diary photographer Rachel Chandler there, yelling at the ref for not calling three seconds on Kevin Garnett, and Ricky Saiz, a head designer at the skate-culture mecca Supreme, sitting on the floor eating berries from a carton. There was even a bouncer out front. Those two (and the bouncer) were back, along with skateboarder Todd Jordan, graffiti writer Neck Face, photographer Tim Barber, and a bunch of guys from the Chinatown Soccer Club. But theirs were the only faces I recognized among the 400-some viewers (a few dozen in war paint, at least three packing vuvuzelas) who were jammed in so tight you couldn't see the floor. This rendered me immobile, which made it damn hard to report on anything happening more than 10 feet away. It was a snoozy, stop-and-go game anyway, and while the ref was handing out yellow cards (14 of them!), I had a lot of time to reflect on the wild month that was—when America discovered the inimitable joys of soccer for the first time (since 2006).
I had spent the previous week in Cape Cod, where I watched the games at a bar with bad onion rings and an implacable crew of Red Sox fans who gave less than a shit, if that's possible, about soccer. So it was great to be back in New York, where the enthusiasm was fleeting but vigorous. Given how little this town usually cares about soccer, there was also a certain goofiness to the fervor. That was certainly true of the folks at Bowery Stadium, whose commentary tended to the aesthetic rather than the tactical.
"Sneijder looks like Kelly Slater."
"Sergio Ramos looks like the waiter at some tourist restaurant who tries to pick up your girlfriend."
One girl asked her boyfriend to identify Mark van Bommel's slide tackle foul.
"It's called a ground cannon."
"Actually," his friend jumped in, "it's called a sled taco."
In Amsterdam such talk gets you slapped with a herring.
Doubtless the World Cup appealed to American viewers for reasons not strictly athletic, among them the chance to try on a coherent national identity for a change. Allying oneself with a given soccer team—Uruguay, Slovakia—provided the adaptive thrill that a European must feel at a Springsteen concert. Picture a Portuguese at Jersey's Meadowlands, pumping his fist and singing along to the chorus of "Born in the U.S.A."; now picture yourself at a bar two Saturdays ago, familially tittering every time Maradona crossed himself. It's not about falseness—screen doors slam in Portugal, and more than half of all Americans cross themselves. Rather, it's all in vicarious fun, which may or may not explain why most of the Bowery crowd was drinking either Amstel Light or sangria. It was somewhere between 200 and 300 degrees inside, and at the 90-minute mark we began to wilt like passengers toughing out a flight to New Zealand. Lank hair, empty water bottles, the odor of alcohol sweat.
"Would you rather be named Xavi or Cesc?"
"I dunno, they both sound like typos."
"Does Puyol fall into the ruggedly handsome or the ruggedly ugly category?"
"Puyol said he'd shave his head if Spain won. He'd still look like a caveman."
When Iniesta finally scored the winning goal, the room exploded with hugging and hooting (it was a Spain crowd), leaving a lone trio of stoically drunk Dutch fans to absorb the replays in horror. "Everyone who ever spent a summer abroad in Barcelona just jumped on the Spain bandwagon," one of them muttered. No one stuck around to watch midfielder Mark van Bommel scream at the ref (tragic) or the winning team's attempt to hurl coach Vicente del Bosque in the air (comic). Instead we all wandered out into the rain, yelping the "Olé! Olé!" chant in sync. For the first time in weeks, a Sunday felt like a Sunday.
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