I knew today would be different. I set my alarm on a Wednesday, which with Wednesday and Thursday being my days off, is like setting an alarm on a Saturday for most.
I woke up excited for the match, heck, I went to bed excited. The World Cup has been entertaining, and each day provided its own thrills, but this was my team, a win stolen from them 5 days ago, needing a win to stay alive in the biggest sporting event in the world.
Today would be different all right.
I tidied up around the house, packed up my son and headed for Molly Malone's in St. Matthews. Arriving at 9:30 the parking lot was already full so we headed around the corner and down an alley to find a spot. We hurried in and asked for a table with a view and the best high chair they had.
We were too late. High chair, sure they can do that. Table with a view? HA! They had a table, but the view of the game- not so good. "I'll take it."
So there I sat next to a 16 month old; in a bar at 9:45AM for only the second time in my life. The other coming on the requisite college St. Patty's Day Kegs N' Eggs outing. This time with my son, it was much different. Diet coke for me, water for the boy please.
The place was crowded, but not packed. There was an air of excitement, but not a fervor. Suits who were obviously sneaking out for a "mid-morning meeting," sat and mingled easily with frat boys in Dempsey and Donovan jerseys who were obviously intending to make a day of it.
The Star-Spangled Banner blared over the sound system, and drew a robust cheer upon completion, and before I knew it, the players were knocking the ball around.
My son had settled into a fruit cup, making sure pick out and eat all the grapes first, as is his custom, and in the first minute of the game both teams take strikes on goal. The game progresses. A US error gives Algeria a golden chance that hits the crossbar and caroms harmlessly over the goal. This would be the best look Algeria got all day.
In the other game, England takes a lead. Oh boy, gonna need a goal now. Then it happened. A steady build up from the Americans and a dangeroud run up the middle. The bar patrons ooo and ahh. One man knocked off the ball(ahh!), another American takes up the charge(ooo), then he is wiped off his feet(ahh). But it comes free to another man in white who strikes it towards net (ooo). Blocked (ahh).
Reactions getting louder now. and most of us are on our feet. The boy looks away from his fruit cup to see just what's happening around him. The ball comes back to an american (ooo) he passes across for a tap in GOAL!!! The bar erupts and suddenly it seems people are standing on top of others. When did this place get so full? Y-E-...wait what? NOOOO! Offside the call. no goal.
Of course replays show the call incorrect. Having goals taken away by wrong official decisions is not the kind of thing you want to "get used to" but as American soccer fans in the 2010 World Cup, we are getting used to it.
The rest of the half plays out with a handful of decent chances for either team, including Altidore sending a short shot over an empty net.(Ahh! Ahh ! Grrrr.) No goals. The crowd had indeed grown in St. Matthews, many standing in the spaces between tables and stools. Halftime whistle sounds. Son and I bolt, we want to see the scene in the Highlands.
So we head for the Highlands, son taking the opportunity for a short nap. He would need it for what was in store for us.
We arrive in the greater Molly Malone's area of the Highlands just as the radio was announcing the start of the 2nd half. After engaging in the Louisville tradition of searching for parking along the street in that area, we settled for a spot a block away on Christy and hurried our way in.
The boy shoots a quick flirty "Hi" to the hostess and we go inside to see what we may have missed on the walk in.
The place is full. Standing room only and even then it was hard to find room to stand. I had an inkling a WHAS TV producer and his soccer team may be down there so we make our through the rooms and corridors in Molly's to find them. No dice. So we looked outside. You know OUTSIDE, where there was no AC.
Outside, all the tables with shady umbrellas were full, peering at a big screen set out there. We head upstairs to the party deck. The deck is crowded, but not nearly so many folks were interested in sitting in the heat, even if there was plenty of shade, cold drinks and ceiling fans.
Here is where I run into WHAS 11 reporter Adam Lefkoe. He had been here awhile judging by the proximity of his seat to the large TV set up. While up here with Adam, Dempsey hit the inside of the post. This close to that goal we needed. USA looking unlucky today, meanwhile England playing a gritty game to hold their lead. USA had to score.
The tension builds and my little sidekick and I arrive back inside just in time to see Edson Buddle brought on to try to spur that American attack. Nowhere to stand in the front room, so we head to the largest room in Molly Malone's and the largest screen in the back.
After a quick pitstop it becomes apparent there is little room in here, even for standing. I scout it out, nothing. That's when the little man made his contribution to the event. I had set him down so he could stretch his legs, and to give my aching biceps a break. The entire room is facing the screen which is set up on what's usually the live entertainment stage. My little star of course takes the stage.
That's genius! I sat on the steps of stage as he made eyes at an older strawberry blonde (had to be at least 2!) at the table next to the stage. Those two commence flirting, and I had a front row seat to the game as well as a wonderful place to watch the patron's reactions.
The game's tension now of course razor sharp. Twenty minutes to play, US needs to score. England looking in full control of Slovenia, only three points will do.
Another header, the room of 100 people where only 75 should be raise as one. Saved by the Algerian keeper. Soccer fans tend to live and die with these moments much more passionately than other fans. i think it's the rhythm of the game that builds and tears down, ebbs and flows and sucks us in.
Tense moments pass. Only 15 more minutes. Bradley free kick knocked down by the keeper again. More time goes off, and more US opportunities parried away. People nervously looking over their shoulder at the England game on a small TV in the corner, not looking good for the US, maybe Slovenia can pull out the tie to send us through.
The room now not 100 individuals, but one, well, one big hope really. Each attack raises the spirits, only to be halted to the dismay of the Group. 85th minute, 86th minute, 88th minute. Doom. I send the surrender text to my wife: "USA out"
A bummer to be sure. Having watched the Cup almost religiously to this point, I would still follow, still get excited for the knockout stage, but I was resigned to having my rooting intrest eliminated now.
Then the extra time official signals 4 minutes. 4 minutes? 4 minutes!! Drawing a cheer from the room still hoping against all hope. Algeria builds an attack, but goalkeeper Howard easily handles it and starts the USA upfield. Donovan builds the attack first with his feet, then a slick pass to Altidore on the outside. The room starts to buzz, we'd seen these chances before in this game, but this one we NEED. This could be all we get.
The ball is moved into the box and sent accross. We all draw our final hopeful breath as the ball seemingly floats towards the waiting Americans in front of goal. Nobody makes a sound, the ball thuds off an American only to be saved once again by the villain of the day, the Algerian keeper in front of the goal. Not agian!
But this time it was different. Instead of sticking to his hands, or falling at his feet, this rebound is trailing away from the keeper, and who is that running onto it? It's Landon Donovan! Our eyes wide now, like the famous kid's in the candy store. Our best player, the heart and soul of the american team collects the ball and spies what we all spy as well.
The net is open. Tuck it home.
He strikes, the ball burrows into the back of the far side of the net. For the briefest moment of moments there is hesitation among the faithful, remember the last two times the US had found the back of the net, officials had taken it back. Hesitation, then release.
I swipe up my kid, interrupting his game with the strawberry blonde, and give him a kiss on the cheek. We hoot, we hollar, we high five whoever is close enough to high five. A young man in the back jumps up on the table. I should snap a photo. Nah forget it, celebrate. 2, 3 minutes pass, we still are acting with full exuberance. I raise my kid high above my head, he gives high fives. 90+ tension filled moments, a week of angst over opportunity stolen, all released, all together by Donovan's sure finish.
Everybody is friends in this room, and one more rousing cheer when an Algerian gets ejected for arguing a call late, then again when the ref blows the final whistle. What a moment. A roomful of strangers, who were all my best friend. This was our moment USA fans. OUR moment. Or so I thought.
My son and I headed upstairs to find Adam Lefkoe for reaction. We regale eachother with a happy tale. A friend waves the stars and stripes over the balcony drawing cheers and honks from Baxter Ave. below. Adam points out I am bleeding. I don't know how, but indeed I have shed blood on this day in honor of my country's sport.
We head out for the car, stopping only when a low flying helicopter draws my son's attention. "Yeah, that's cool kiddo." "Da Coooooo" he replies. He never said that before.
On the way home we stop at the grocery to pick up some items to grill tonight. Man its hot out, I hadn't noticed for awhile. Run into a few fans picking up some items dressed in red, white and blue. I snap a photo, we give hi fives. Outside is a fire truck, we stop and say hi to the brave men inside. As we head to the car, he points back at the truck, "Da Coooo," he repeats.
We head home where mama awaits. I look back, and the kid's eyes are heavy. He clinches the American flag in his hand. It hits me.
While we all may have experienced a great moment in sports today, sorry, it was not OUR moment. This moment was MINE. Me and my boy. My first big sporting memory, with my little flag-holding son by my side. No mother, no buddies, just me and him. Heck, he will never even remember, but I sure will.
Other fathers had told me about moments like this before, but you just don't know till it happens to you. Yes tears welled up. I will never throw away that flag. USA 1- Algeria 0. My moment.
I struggled to start today's entry. I started and stopped and started again. A fantastic finish, and emotional win to top all emotional wins. I struggled not to tell my story, but ultimately felt it the best way to share in this great day with you. Check out the photos as well.
Please forward along your story of watching the game either in the comment section below or to my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for reading, see you next time.