Madison Bumgarner

Airport “reporting”: Bumgarner shines, U.S. might become a soccer nation after all

us soccer

VIRGIN AMERICA FLIGHT 717

I’ve always wanted to start a story off with a dateline. I feel like a real scribe now.

/hearty columnist guffaw

I’m 35,000 feet above some area between Dallas and San Francisco. My heart’s still beating faster than normal, and it’s not due to turbulence. What a game between the United States and Portugal. Anyone who says soccer is boring, or that draws are lame, better start working on a better rebuttal than “they just suck, dude.” Because despite the pain of having improbable victory snatched away in that fashion, tonight’s match was absolutely thrilling.

I’m not sure why sporting events seem to resonate more when you’re catching parts of games in airport bars. Maybe it’s the extra effort you have to put in to (1) find a spot with TVs and (2) watch as much as you can without missing your flight. Maybe it’s hearing cheers from strangers from all over the country (and perhaps even the world) from 100 feet away when you’re waiting to board your plane. I was in line for this flight when Jermaine Jones drilled the equalizer — both excited to find out what happened and annoyed that my wife is such a stickler for boarding planes as soon as humanly possible at the same time.

Thankfully, this airline is the right one for situations like these, and we made it to our seats in time to watch Clint Dempsey score. “GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLL” shouted one of the flight attendants into the mic, as the 30 or so passengers already in their seats erupted into uninhibited nationalistic cheers. It’s tough to describe the kind of feeling you get on a plane when something that important occurs. “Important” doesn’t really do it justice. “Historic” sounds a little early, since the U.S. still needs to get out of Group G.

Let’s just go with “spine-tingling.” Goosebumps don’t show up on my skin all that often, but the hair on my arm stood as if pulled toward the heavens by a static-filled balloon at that moment.

Michael Bradley hasn’t had a fantastic World Cup by any stretch. Maybe he’ll make up for that on Thursday against Germany, but missing a relatively easy chance with the goalkeeper pulled away from the action was unfortunate. Handing (footing?) the ball back to the Portuguese with seconds remaining was crippling. It took an incredible ball from Cristiano Ronaldo, and the defender-to-Varela ratio was more than high enough to prevent what eventually happened, but the situation was avoidable if Bradley just did his job. He seemed to draw a lot of attention before Dempsey’s goal, but after all we’ve heard about this midfielder leading up to this Cup, it seems like expectations should be higher.

We as Americans have been trained to look at the bright side for as long as we’ve been involved in World Cup play, but it was hard to feel too sad — even after tonight’s ending. Things looked so bleak after Nani scored just five minutes in (“Oh yeah, that’s right. They’re Portugal and we’re US.”) Tim Howard’s one-handed save he deflected over the crossbar was incredible. The goals from Jones and Dempsey were gorgeous.

Hey, there’s Wondo!

Everyone in my timeline was calling for Chris Wondolowski to get the call, which I found amusing. Ha, like .. what do we know about it? You know, besides how the guy came from Danville, went to Chico State and plays for the Earthquakes? But Wondo did pretty darned well in the chances he got near the end of this game. He certainly played well enough to get another shot in this tournament.

I don’t know a thing about soccer, as one could probably ascertain from reading the last half-dozen paragraphs. But that was incredibly fun. The noise was perfect. The conditions were perfectly brutal. The Americans outplayed the Portuguese, which more than anything is what I’ve wanted to see this entire time. Outplay a true power. Look the part. Excite without the coolest moment looking like a total fluke. They’re nowhere near a favorite, but they aren’t some cute story that’ll be forgotten for four years after this run ends, either.

Jurgen Klinsmann seems like a guy who knows what he’s doing, no?

In the “group of death,” the United States still has plenty of life. If they can notch a draw (or even a win, which doesn’t sound so insane now) against the Germans on Thursday morning, all the talk I’ve heard my entire life about soccer’s eventual breakthrough will no longer be meaningless chatter sponsored by Adidas and the MLS. I don’t know why I feel so strongly about this right now — it’s probably because Sunday’s game made me feel like boarding a plane to Rio once we land at SFO.

Giants winning streak!

I had to follow this game 100% on Gameday, so I’ll keep this brief. Here’s what I wrote after Saturday night’s win:

Madison Bumgarner hasn’t gone the distance since Aug. 14, 2012, but a complete game on Sunday sure would be nice.

After eight scoreless innings where he only allowed one hit and threw 104 pitches, I was feeling pretty good about this prediction. Then I was told by my faithful app that Jordan Pacheco reached first on an error by Brandon Crawford, and I knew this was going to be a Sergio Romo game.

My friends in the comments section need to fill me in, because I was watching the soccer game at a TGI Fridays at the DFW Airport while all this happened. After Romo gave up an RBI single to Martin Prado to make the score 4-1, he got Paul Goldschmidt to ground into a double play before striking out Aaron Hill. That’s pretty good, right?

The Joe Panik call-up is certainly looking solid, since he went 2-for-4, picked up his first RBI, and made contact all four times he came to the plate after walking in his big league debut last night.

The NBA Draft is on Thursday, and the Warriors could end up with Kevin Love at any moment. And yeah, the A’s still have the best record in baseball. This should be a pretty interesting week.

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