Landon Donovan

Soccer sucks … wait, we love soccer!

Have you ever gotten goose bumps to the point where it feels like you’ve grown a full beard instantly? Like the hair is getting pushed out of your facial follicles by some overwhelming force of chemical interactions that can only be created by the force of a touching moment during a wedding, graduation, inauguration, sporting event or Pixar movie? (Ladies, you get a pass on this question.)

I shaved this morning. Usually that wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but this is relatively rare for me. I’ve been going on a once-every-three-days average when it comes to shaving for quite some time, but some V.P. bigwig from the East Coast (a guy people call the “vampire” because he reportedly doesn’t sleep and forces the West Coast execs to take part in daily 8 am EST conference calls that can only be taken in a conference room in the office — he’s a rad guy to hang out with, I’m sure) is visiting/terrorizing our office today, and we were told we needed to do three things: look presentable (in an East Coast sense, not a San Francisco sense), remove the liquor from our desks and arrive by 9 am.

If I didn’t have to be in the office by a set time, I would have stayed home until the US/Algeria game was over. Hell, I would have stayed late and watched the interviews before trudging off to work. But my manager meant business, so I started the 2-mile work from Alamo Square to Market St. at exactly 8:30.

I had the headphones in, listening to the US struggle against what looked to be an overmatched Algeria squad. I had seen the Clint Dempsey goal that was stolen away by FIFA’s Criminal of the Day one of the refs on a phantom offsides call. I saw Dempsey’s drive off the post and rebound attempt that flew offline. Although the US had several chances and surely had the speed and depth advantage over the Algerians, the thoughts in my head were mostly based on the referees and how the nation was about to turn it’s collective back on soccer after watching Slovenia and England advance to the next round. Especially Slovenia, who was lucky to escape with a tie against us last week.

How could they botch another should-be American goal? Forget the perceived chicanery when it comes to the refs in the NBA, whose makeup calls mean that a good portion of the game is refereed in the exact opposite way the action is actually occurring, soccer can only be compared to boxing when it comes to injustice and lack of accountability.

All these bitter thoughts racing through my head – still listening to the game, mind you – and then I walked through Civic Center Plaza. To my left, in the middle of the lawn, I saw the big screen showing the game and hundreds of people packed together in front, all rigid with desperation. It was the 89th minute, and due to the radio delay I took my headphones out and walked backwards toward the corner of McCallister and Larkin, my eyes never leaving the screen. I bumped into a guy, and I couldn’t even muster an, “Excuse me.” I was too engrossed in the match for pleasantries, or even to look where I was going. But I was deathly close to being late for work, so when the light turned green, I had to keep going. Past the Asian Art Museum, leaving the screen out of sight.

Then, a block’s worth of walking later, Landon Donovan scored the goal that guaranteed that both his first and last names will become the most popular boy’s names in America (or at least the East Bay) for years to come.

When the rush of tingles, chills and goose bumps started I realized why the rest of the world lives and dies with this stuff, and that soccer will become an important sport in my lifetime (provided I don’t get hit by a bus while walking around downtown San Francisco backwards). Vuvuzelas, offsides, shady referees, flopping, ties, forget all that. Maybe it’s watching your country being represented on the international stage, but I would imagine millions of people were like me, and haven’t felt chills like that since Michael Phelps touched the wall a couple hundredths of a second before that French dude.

I took my headphones out for a split second, but I couldn’t hear what had to be an eruption of cheers two blocks away in the square. Cars and a MUNI bus in between a corridor of tall buildings shielded me from the pandemonium. It didn’t matter. I put my headphones back in, and felt my face, figuring I had to at least have a solid five o’clock going. Nope, just goose bumps everywhere, another wonderful, humbling reminder of how truly powerless we all are over our emotions. (Oh, and I got to work on time. By one minute. Not that it mattered.)

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