Featured, July 2011, USWNT

Voices in the TYAC Crowd: Why the US Loss to Japan May Have a Silver Lining

Resilient Japan halted the US in penalties Sunday. But a great deal of good was done by the run, regardless of how many casual viewers once again turn away.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What follows is a Special Contribution to The Yanks Are Coming from reader and US fan Cameron James Siggs, Esq. We thank him sincerely for his fine contribution.

First, a confession. I’m a soccer guy, and I have been forever. Never really played past grade school, but I did letter in Girls’ Soccer in high school. (I may be the only male to do so; I was the play-by-play guy for my high school team and went to every game, home or away.) I also had the good fortune to share a house with a great number of the Florida Gators Women’s Soccer team members during my years in law school, and all of those ladies are still very near and dear to my heart.

However, this is about what happened Sunday. This is about America, and how the attitudes of the common sports fan (and, indeed, American) may finally have embraced “the beautiful game.” But we can’t start at Sunday.

Take a trip down the time machine to two Men’s World Cups ago. I’m sitting, at my lunch break, at an eating establisment as famous for its wait-staff as it is for its chicken wings. I have to beg the (lovely) staff to turn just ONE of the televisions over to god-knows-what variant of the four-letter network channel to pick up the USA Men’s National Team matches. I come in early to work, leave a tad late, but I’ll be damned if I don’t watch every single minute of World Cup soccer when the USA is playing. I sneak updates on my phone and on espn.com when other teams are on, but my focus is the USMNT. After bribing the staff to finally change the channel, I had to explain (every game) several things to my fellow patrons:

a. What this damned fool sport is.

b. Why we’re watching it.

c. Why the score isn’t 42-17.

d. The subtleties of the match.

The tournament wasn't a success for the men in 2006-- but in America-- viewers started changing their views about soccer greatly afterwards. So it wasn't a disaster, either...

Eventually, after every game, I had several converts to soccer. It was, at that time, a sport that mainstream America simply didn’t want to put the effort into understanding. For our foreign friends, when your national sports contain rules like “the infield fly rule” and “the Brady tuck rule”, a man’s head can get a little full of rules. You simply cannot explain the offside rule to a person used to having the “yellow tv first down line” keep the difference between glory and failure glowing there on the screen without a little coaxing and explaining.

Yet after every single one of those matches, the entire crowd that was watching was enthralled. Several of them would inevitably start cursing the diving and complaining that pervades most of top-tier soccer. I hoped that, in my own small way, I had helped start a soccer revolution. I hoped that I had planted the seeds to make soccer as popular here as it ever could be.

I was unsucessful, but not entirely so.

Skip forward another four years, and the last Men’s World Cup was here, and there were plenty of places to watch. People were IN to this thing, man; they seemed to enjoy it. Yet there wasn’t the sense of urgency that one finds elsewhere. For example, we were eating at a local establishment (the same one we were at today to watch the USA – Japan final), and were all decked out in our finest red, white, and blue. We had also brought along an American Flag, and the owner of the place came over to relate to us that “a patron called and complained, saying they had just left, and they felt that we were being ‘disrespectful’ to the flag,” as at one point after the USA scored, the flag touched the ground after I was tackled by my brother in a fit of revelry. The patronage still didn’t fully understand that, sometimes, when your country scores, and you’re waiving the flag, and someone tackles you, the flag might hit the ground. It happens, but it’s no more disrespectful than if the flag gets dropped during the National Anthem by one of the 100 people or so holding the 1 acre flag at midfield. I brought the flag to have and to hold, as a symbol (after all, it is just a symbol) of our nation and my own national pride. We were not discouraged or dissuaded, and did indeed run out onto a MAJOR UNITED STATES NATIONAL HIGHWAY with said flag in tow after our victory. The authorities were actually amused; none of us ended up in jail, and in fact got a ride back to the bar in one of my county’s finest patrol cars. That being said, after the USMNT was bounced, the bar quickly changed the channel to baseball, and everyone else besides us sort of forgot about the game within five-or-so minutes. I was the only one at that bar that lost any sleep that night, and I lost a lot.

Sunday's loss was terribly difficult to take. But the silver lining was so many more than ever shared our misery.

Fast WAY forward to Sunday. Same little bar, same delicious chicken wings, same ice-cold domestic draught beer. No flag this time (that flag flew in front of my house until it was retired, respectfully, as it had grown tattered in the 9 years since I bought it on September 11, 2001)– no complaining unbelievers, just a bunch of blue-collar, working people sitting around on a Sunday afternoon waiting for the soccer to come on the television.

I cannot explain to you how intensely normal this afternoon felt. Inside the bar were myself, my fiancee, two of my best friends with their wives, and about a dozen or so normal patrons. The two short-haired women wearing jerseys were the only outwardly pro-soccer people in the joint. We had all dressed in our best red, white, and blue, but so had everyone else. Sure, the one guy (who explained at the half that his normal occupation is “bouncer and general roustabout”) had on a red, white, and blue “Affliction” shirt, and the other guy (whose occupation will be shortly revealed) had on a “XXXX’s BAIL BONDS” shirt in red, white, and blue– but the point is of course that  EVERYONE there seemed to have something a little patriotic on.

When we first arrived about a half hour or so before the kick, we expected the same as usual: we would be the people there who would watch soccer, everyone else would bitch about it, but then gradually come around, and in the end, we’d all be friends. We were wrong.

Every television was turned to the game. The people that were there were actually interested in the game, at least in a roundabout way. Sure, one guy brought a laptop to discuss some business with his client, who was also present, and they were focusing on that as much as anything else before the game, but after the game started, all eyes were on the television. We joked when we saw the cameras cutting into places like Washington, D.C., and Afghanistan, to show the crowds of civilians here and troops there piled around TV’s watching the game that “Hey, they should show a live broadcast from Hurricanes Wings on 41 in Fort Myers, Florida! We’re fans too!”

In the older days of US Soccer, you knew the goalscorer's name. Now-- ordinary folks knew who was in the scoring dogpile. That's progress.

As the game progressed, my fellow patrons (and by that I mean not my personal crowd, who by now have already been brainwashed enough into really, really caring; I mean the entire rest of the bar) were following the game in a way that I assume people in the rest of the world do: they knew the names of the players, they cared about the calls, they could articulate why the USA’s early attacking was a direct result of having an extra day’s rest compared to the semifinal, why that had initially hurt us in the France game (my god, they watched the France game!) and how glad they were that ol’ what’s-her-name was back from that stupid red card in that game against South America. (Okay, we’re not there 100%, but damn they had the CONTINENT right)

Then, the WORST POSSIBLE THING EVER IMAGINABLE happened. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, in summertime in Southwest Florida, the rain is something else. When it rains, it pours, but not like anything you’ve ever seen. DirecTV claims a 98% uptime rate, even in rain. This is accurate everywhere on earth except in Southwest Florida, as we have rain on a daily basis that is roughly the same as one of your Yankee firehoses pouring over the whole county. One such thunderstorm broke directly over our heads, and the all-too-familiar “DirecTV error 711 SEARCHING FOR SIGNAL ZOMG WHERE IS THE SATELLITE” error message came on.

Fortunately, we have other forms of technology. And this is where the story gets really, really cool.

I had prepared for such an event, and had the ol’ reliable Sprint TV app ready on my Evo. The truly shocking thing, and the entire point of this article, is that EVERYONE ELSE IN THE RESTAURANT WAS READY TOO.

Satellite goes out? No problem. As one, the patrons of the place all pulled out their collective technology, and began leaping from tables to join collective groups around Mr. “I GOT THE RADIO WORKING” or Ms. “CHECK OUT MY PLAY-BY-PLAY WEBCAST.” As one, without any hesitation, the entire restaurant gathered around our electronics, to simply keep watching. The burly guys at the bar ran over to my cell to watch it; the family in the corner rushed my friend, shushing everyone to hear the tiny little FM radio feed, the waitresses all rushed to plug in the businessman’s laptop and set up a pair of portable speakers that one had so he could get it on ESPN3 and we could hear.

It was, for lack of a better word, amazing.

This small restaurant, in this little town in Southwest Florida, full of random, everyday Americans, instantly pulled together every bit of ingenuity we could plug in or turn on, just so we could keep up with the game.

Think about that. This wasn’t  an “oh, shucks, teevee’s on the fritz, let’s pay our tab and head home, check the paper tomorrow to see how the game went” moment. This was an all-out WEATHER-BE-DAMNED WE ARE WATCHING SOCCER DAMNIT moment. And there we all huddled, around 4.3 inch screens, around tiny radios, around a laptop that (at first) only showed the 8-bit pixilated version of the game, hanging on every single step of the game. It was a magical moment, a moment that would have been so laughable 8 years ago that (even though the technology wasn’t there) to suggest it would have been the highest of comedic gestures.

Yes, the women lost. Yes, they had the game won. Twice. But the bigger picture here isn’t that we lost to Japan in a heartbreaker.

The big picture here is that, when the United States of America’s Women’s National Team lost, they broke a *lot* of hearts. And those hearts bleed Red, White, and Blue. And those hearts will be aching for revenge the next time their country plays for glory. And that moment comes soon– next July in London.

Those hearts will be watching.

Cameron James Siggs is an Assistant State Attorney for Florida who resides in Lee County. He is a graduate of the University of Florida– twice, an enormous fan of both the USMNT and the USWNT and a longtime friend of both University of Florida Women’s Soccer and The Yanks Are Coming. We sincerely appreciate him offering his viewpoints to this website.


Neil W. Blackmon