Oh to be born an American, something that we’re told while we are young is probably the best gift you can be given. I was born in 1989 and grew up throughout the 1990s, so the US was looking pretty dang good after outlasting the Soviet Union and others to claim the spoils of the Cold War. Clinton was president, the government’s budget had a surplus of enough funds for Scrooge McDuck to swim through, it was a great time to grow up.
I also vaguely remember the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Kansas City didn’t have any games and my family was also extremely poor at the time, so all my memories come from the old tube TV that sat in our living room. Of the few memories I have, they are in no particular order, Diana Ross kicking the worst penalty of all time, that goofy dog mascot that was on all merch that I just had to have, and US versus Colombia. At this time, I was playing soccer in a kid’s league for the only time in my life, so it was a big deal.
I barely understood Andres Escobar’s situation. I was too young to understand national pride and own goals, I simply thought that putting the ball in your own net was like hockey, whoever was the last player on the opposite team to touch the puck gets credit for the goal. I didn’t understand what would happen to Escobar afterwards either, for something to matter that much to a country and its people, no matter how corrupt they might be, just didn’t cross my young mind. I did understand Earnie Stewart’s goal though, and my mind was set. Estados Unidos til I Die.
But things change. Baseball became my life, I played, lived, and breathed baseball for a long while afterwards. I don’t remember a single bit of France 1998 at all. I remember watching repeats of US-Portugal, US-Mexico, and US-Germany after they were shown live in 2002, but missed out on the hubbub. I went to plenty of Wizards games, bless the Zard Card, but I never truly fell in love with either. I was a glory hunting Liverpool fan starting in 2001, and thought anything below the Premier League was crap. Trust me, I got better.
Germany 2006 rolled around and the attention came back to the US for my family and myself. My father was stationed throughout West Germany in the 1980s, so he felt old feelings towards the home of his ancestors and his former temporary home. He bought the WC video game for us to play, told me about the various cities he’d been in and the ones that the US would be playing in for group stage. Everything was set up for me to completely buy in, and the USMNT proceeded to crap the bed. Everything would have been ruined without that Ghana game however, they bested us everywhere and I hated them for it, everything has a starting point.
3 or so years later, Liverpool is fighting for the title, I’m going to Wizards games in a minor league baseball stadium fairly regularly, and I turn on a World Cup Qualifier between US-Mexico, a cold looking event with fans going nuts and broadcasters talking about some mythical sounding Spanish happening, some "Dos a Cero." That night, I was finally sold on America, the night where little Michael Bradley, HE’S ONLY HERE CAUSE HIS DAD’S THE COACH, became the man known as "MB90." I was all American from then on out.
2010 is a blur, I was recovering most of the year from major eye surgery but remember it as the year that I embraced the Copa Mundial. I watched only US-Spain and US-Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup, yet watched every single match in the 2010 World Cup, everything from the Swiss beating Spain, to Spain redeeming their selves to win the Cup. I was at Johnny’s Tavern Power & Light for each US match, feeling the pain of the early Gerrard goal to laughing my rear off watching Robert Green scramble desperately for the ball rolling towards his goal.
Sitting in that chair at Johnny’s, the same one for each game, I was a silly superstitious kid back then, I screamed at the screen when Maurice Edu’s goal was waved off, and then embraced strangers and new friends when Landon Donovan did his thing versus Algeria. For the Ghana match, I took my late friend to a watch party there and he was surprised at how many people were watching. He never knew soccer would be embraced like that in KC, I wish he were here to see it today.
Since that 2010 World Cup, I’ve seen 7 US men’s national soccer team matches. In those 7 matches, I’ve never seen them lose nor draw, completely insane stat to me, considering I’ve seen them play one in another country. My first, like many others, was the US-Guadeloupe game in the 2011 Gold Cup. I learned what it was like to be an American Outlaw at that game, embracing the differences in being in the Cauldron for a Sporting Kansas City game versus being there for a US game.
US-Guatemala was the next one, I remember the shock that surged through me when Carlos Ruiz scored that early goal, there were a lot more Guatemalan fans in the stands that I expected, my first true taste of away international fans. I experienced being that guy in Jamaica, traveling down to Montego Bay then riding a bus through the Blue Mountains, which mind you is easily the craziest bus ride of my life. I paid $4 for a flask of rum at a bar, I paid $2 for a 16oz beer, I peed on a wall they called a urinal, I saw Brad Evans score a game winning goal, it was the very definition of bizarro world.
The US played 2 days after I got back in the States in Seattle vs Panama, and I was there, because I’m not a normal person anymore. I really just remember being tired, seeing the AO Seattle scandal firsthand, and enjoying Jozy’s amazing 2013 streak. I then waited a bit, until I got a message from some AO Wichita guys, wondering if I wanted to see the US play Panama again in the Gold Cup Final in Chicago. The plan was to leave from KC at 10:30pm, get to Chicago early, get some breakfast, hit up Niketown, then go to the prematch party and game, leaving right after the match was over.
To this day, after turning down a chance to go to Denver for Snowclasico, I’m so happy I didn’t turn that chance down. Sure, I almost fell asleep at the wheel on the way back in Hannibal, MO, but I got to see my nats win hardware, a real trophy. That experience is well worth a near death one in itself. Also, still heartbroken that Panama had to go through all that drama in 2013 for nothing, wish they were in Brazil right now.
Every person who is a US fan should see at least one Dos a Cero in their life. I imagine that no matter what they go through, the US will always beat Mexico 2-0 in Columbus. I made my pilgrimage last September, flying in, skipping class, and having stupid amounts of Tim Hortons along the way. I capoed the first half, took a break til the first goal, and then made my way back up front. I just had to stand alone, take in the surroundings. Crew Stadium is something else; I had been there for a SKC away match the year before, a near empty place with no soul. I now stood in a completely full, noisy, hostile to the away side stadium. Seriously felt like an out of body experience, you can’t miss that ever, you seriously should go to every US-Mexico game there.
Becoming a US fan is something that many find easy to do these days. The World Cup is bigger than ever, people that didn’t watch are now watching, people that only watched US games are now watching Japan-Cote d’Ivoire. I hope that people don’t forget the older times though, players like Cherundolo and Joe-Max Moore, games like US-Mexico Gold Cup Final 2007. As older fans, help embrace the new ones, don’t brag about how many "caps" you have, not only because you aren’t actually being called up to play, but it can be slightly offputting towards those fans. The Free Beer Movement is brilliant towards that idea, and works so well. My friend didn’t know what to expect, yet I offered beer, and he was sold. Everyone can, and not just because of alcohol, but deep down, no matter their background or anything, we’re all in this together. We’re all American. Go get ‘em Yanks.