Strong Sauce: The U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team: Out Of The Group Of Death And Into Our Hearts

Friday, June 27, 2014 - by Michael Lawson
Michael Lawson
Michael Lawson

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  You’re tired of hearing and reading about soccer. I know. It’s all over the place…ESPN, SI, NBC News, Fox News, Nickelodeon…actually, I have no idea about Nickelodeon…but it’s everywhere. You can’t get away from it. And the game itself isn’t that great anyway.  I mean…who cares about a game that can end in a tie? That’s just pure communism. Why play a game that no one wins? What’s the point? And…OMG…it takes so long for something to happen…it’s like watching a David Lynch or James Mangold movie. And why do you have to look like the bassist from 311 to play the game? And who cares if it’s called “The World Cup”? Most of the world can’t get anything right anyway…much less a game. Why should any of us care? We have baseball now, and football is only nine weeks away.  Trust me, I get it. There’s a part of me that still holds to these questions and suspicions of the world’s most popular sport. I am not joking. I have a natural and innate opposition to the game of soccer. The nature and culture of this sport are more X-Games than Super Bowl or World Series…and that just isn’t me. The game of soccer, however, found me as I roamed the world for a while, and much like a new foreign friend, I grew to respect, admire, and trust it. That same game, and our national team, now begs for your attention.

The summer months of 2000 were exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time. A beloved friend and professor, Janet Rahamut, had been murdered the night I left to study in Ecuador for the summer. That was June 4th. After having only been there for a few days, my school flew me back to the States to be deposed by the police and to attend the funeral, only to ship me back to finish my studies in language and culture. It was the last credit I needed to graduate. The following weeks were spent in quasi-isolation. I was already functionally fluent, and didn’t require much prep time for exams or instruction. My friends, however, did, and that left me many a night to scurry about town in the shadows and solace of thought. One such night I was at a pub called the Reina Victoria that flew the Union Jack. In spite of the fact that I really didn’t feel like talking to anyone, a very loud and gregarious group from England invited me to game of darts. That match of darts turned into a 5 week friendship that centered on tales of travel, favorite pints, lots of trash talk, and yes, the game of soccer. It was with them that I learned to hate Chelsea and love Liverpool. It was with these fine folk that I watched the English lose a nail-biter to Romania and Germany get waxed by Portugal in the group stage of the UEFA European Championship. I had a vague sensibility about the rules and strategy employed, but whether I did or didn’t, it didn’t matter. The atmosphere was incredible. The café they chose had the English game on one side and the German game on the other. It was packed with every ex-pat in the city of Quito. It was loud. It was frothy. It was wild. It was like college football, except their team was their entire nation, not just their state. When I asked about their thoughts regarding my beloved American team…they shrugged…and hmmmed…and sighed…and replied…”You have to care to be good.” It was the first time I got it.

That thing is going on with our team these days…this feeling of national pride and support. There is something organic happening to the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT), and it is exciting. The M.O. of our team has been, for a while now, that of a sleeping giant, but one who refuses to wake up. Meaning, a nation so large, with so much talent, and so many resources is one that is expected to succeed, at some point. But we haven’t, really. But here’s the thing…that air of slumbered and chained mediocrity seems to be sliding into the ether as this 2014 World Cup moves out of the group stage. From our coach, Yurgen Klinsmann, his storied career, and his controversial decision to leave off our favorite son Landon Donovan, to the irrepressible way this very young USMNT found a way to escape “The Group of Death” against 99% of predictions… in terrible weather and while traveling more than 99% of the other teams…this team…our team… has something. There is this feeling that our expectations are finally beginning to match our potential. These 23 young men wearing our flag’s colors just did something special and invigorating. They never quit (I still don’t want to talk about Portugal!), they showed equal parts gumption and athleticism, and you hardly ever see them flop or bite someone. This version of the USMNT will be looked at in posterity as the kernel and seed of something that can be, and will be, great one day. If you are paying attention, you are seeing the beginnings of a thing that will win and endure in the not too distant future. It is happening, and we are watching it unfold. Next up: Belgium.

* * *
 W. Michael Lawson is an alumnus of Lee University and University of Richmond. Mr. Lawson currently hosts a weekly radio show “The Strong Sauce Hour” and Co-hosts a daily sports show “The Sports Drive” on 101.3 FM/1570 AM. You can follow him on twitter @thestrongsauce.

McCallie And GPS Aquatics Have Success At NCSA Junior Nationals

Thirteen McCallie and GPS Aquatics athletes competed in Orlando March 12-March 17 at the NCSA Junior National Championships.  They were Jillian Cantrell, Grayson Payne, Emma Scruggs, Ellie Taliaferro , Zach Althoff, Ethan Bevill, Reece Gallagher, Ben Griffith, Will Jackson, Gabriel Johnson, Jake Marcum, Luke Massey, and Max Ransom. Luke Massey placed 5th in the 50 Breast ... (click for more)

2018 UCRA Season Opener I-75 Spring-Loaded Easter Weekend

The United Championship Racing Alliance - UCRA will kick off the 2018 Championship campaign next Saturday night at the Kyle families I-75 Raceway in Sweetwater, Tn. with the 2nd annual “Spring-Loaded Easter 40” for Crate Late Models. Rusty Ballenger of nearby Seymour, Tn. will begin vying for his third consecutive $5,000 championship reign at the recently reconfigured 1/3 mile ... (click for more)

Corker, Perdue Slam Massive $1.4 Trillion Omnibus Spending Bill; Fleischmann, Graves Support It

In remarks on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, Thursday slammed the massive $1.4 trillion “omnibus” spending bill, calling it one of the most “grotesque” pieces of legislation he can remember during his two terms in the Senate. Georgia Senator David Perdue also opposes it. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Tom Graves were among those ... (click for more)

Judge Philyaw Denies He Did Not Reappoint Magistrate Because She Was Gay

Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw told a federal jury on Thursday that the fact Elizabeth Gentzler is openly gay had no part in his decision not to reappoint her as a magistrate. "Absolutely not. I have a lot of gay friends, family and acquaintances," he said. However, a court officer at Juvenile Court sided with Ms. Gentzler. Jimmie Cannon said, "Ninety-nine percent ... (click for more)

Avoid Underage Drinking And Other Prom Drama

My high school prom took a dramatic turn when two guys got their tuxedo jackets mixed up. One of them belonged to my date, who kindly offered to keep my wallet in his pocket. That’s the jacket another young man mistakenly grabbed off the back of a chair before heading to an underage drinking party that got shut down by police well after midnight—as kids scattered in every direction.  ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Famed Freitas Speech

Several weeks ago a member of the Virginia House of Delegates (that’s what Virginia calls the state legislature) stood up and before that body responded to a claim by a Democratic lawmaker that Republicans were pro-Second Amendment and segregationists. Nick Freitas, who did two tours in Iraq with our Army’s Special Forces and has talked candidly about losing friends to terrorist ... (click for more)