I (Scott) am a Liverpool fan, but that is not the whole truth. Every time I watch the United States Men's National Team (USMNT), I realize that I am mostly a USMNT fan.
Like many Americans who were old enough to follow sports in the 1990s, I started paying attention to soccer in 1994 when the United States last hosted the World Cup. Correction: I started to pay attention to the World Cup.
In 2002, when the Americans made the quarters, I was never going to miss another World Cup. And after the 2006 World Cup, I opened myself up to the Premier League. The rest is history.
This all means that I started as a USMNT fan, and that is the team I live and die with the most.
Today, with the 2018 World Cup approaching, I wanted to tell a story of living and a story of dying. Call it my way of coping still more with the USMNT not being in this year's World Cup if you must.
A Story of Dying:
Every time the US is eliminated from a World Cup, I feel a level of devastation unparalleled with my other sports teams. In 2014, when Belgium defeated the US in the Round of 16, I needed a full two days to get over it. Sure, Tim Howard was amazing (16 saves!), but how did Wondo miss?
There was a little comfort in that loss knowing that the US was not the favorite. This was not a source of comfort when the US was eliminated in 2010.
They were playing against Ghana, the same African nation that had beaten them in the dreadful 2006 World Cup. This was time for revenge. Technically, the US was probably not the favorite, but there was definitely a good shot at advancing. Plus, there was magic in this squad (more on that later). This was going to happen.
And then it didn't. Asamoah Gyan scored early in extra time, and Ghana held on to win 2-1.
We were supposed to attend a big party later that evening. We did, but I was a shell of a person. My team (my real and true team) was out of the World Cup. Maybe I shouldn't admit it, but I was down and out for days. This truly felt like a death that needed to be properly grieved.
A Story of Living:
Ironically, it was the 2010 World Cup that provided the best moment as a USMNT fan. If you are already a fan, you know where I'm going with this.
It was the final group stage match; Algeria were the opponents. The US needed to win to advance. In the 91st minute, it was still 0-0. The US took advantage of a counterattacking opportunity. Clint Dempsey's shot was denied by the keeper, but the rebound fell to a sprinting Landon Donovan, who put it away. 1-0. The US celebrates.
I still watch this goal on YouTube. Ian Darke's voice still gives me goosebumps. It did again just now when I watched it for the 4,232nd time. It always will.
Funnily enough, though, I didn't hear a word that Ian Darke had said when the goal went in. I was scheduled to work second shift on the day of this match. The timing was perfect so that I could watch it and then go to work.
No one else was home. My wife and only child at that time were out. It was just me and this match.
And then the goal went in. I jumped up and started screaming, but it wasn't enough. I had more joy that I needed to release. I ran outside of my townhouse and into the subdivision parking lot.
I slightly bent my knees, extended my fisted hands straight out in front of me, and I yelled again at the top of my lungs. I yelled a third time. Then, I realized where I was and ran back inside. But I didn't care. Landon Donovan had scored.
By the time I got back inside, the celebrating was winding down on the TV. To this day, that is the only time that sports has ever driven me to run from my house like a wild fan and scream into the great outdoors.
That picture of me outside? I'm proud of it. There's no shame here. I tell you this story because I hope you have this moment, too. Maybe it will come this summer.