If there was one place an American soccer fan should have been yesterday, especially if they were supporting Germany, it was at the LA Soccer Club. You might easily miss the non-descript one-story brown building tucked away under the freeway on Chandler Avenue in the San Fernando Valley. But it is the home of what was originally known as the LA Kickers, a German-American soccer club with over fifty years of history - including a couple of Open Cup titles. The place would have been packed with perhaps the highest per-capita concentration of fandom, experience and knowledge outside a German clubhouse. It also has an enormous screen and a selection of fine German beers (of course). I couldn't imagine a better place to enjoy a Germany World Cup final.
Naturally, I was thousands of miles away. Perfectly nice little pub in Oakley, Ohio, where if the notes on the IPA on tap says there are "notes" of pine and grapefruit, the thing will damn well taste like a Christmas tree lot. Ten percent, though.
I was bedecked - nay, resplendent - in my 1994 US World Cup jersey. It's strange - usually fat middle-aged guys don't look good in retro soccer jerseys, but somehow I make it work. I can't explain it, I just look great in them. I would have been the hit of the block had I not been upstaged by the guy in the 1990 Germany warmup jacket, complete with original lining. Another customer had a 2008 Euro Michael Ballack jersey, and had I word a different jersey we could have had a fair number of ESPN commentators represented at the bar. I would wear the hell out of a Bob Ley or Ian Darke jersey, I feel like adding for no reason.
The Ballack fan's friend had an Argentina scarf. He wanted Germany to win, but for Messi to score two. "There hasn't been a five-goal World Cup final since 1970," I say in amazement, killing the conversation stone dead. I resolve to drink away the trivia.
Argentina in Philadelphia Union tribute kits, coached by Droopy Dog. Germany in traditional red gradient on white, coached by the Second Doctor.
Say, did you know that bad weather affects satellite coverage? It's true! Huge swathes of the game were presented to us in Please Call Your Provider-Vision. Many jokes were made about missing goals and other life-changing events. I think we did miss Messi throwing up.
We did get to see one life-changing moment, and it may stay with me for a long time. I don't know if you noticed when Toni Kroos headed the ball directly to Gonzalo Higuain - oh, you did? The whole world did? Time pretty much stopped? Hm, so it did.
In the replay, you can see Kroos in the back, standing absolutely still. His life, as he knew it, was over. He had made the biggest, most public mistake of his entire life, in front of a live audience of literally billions. Whether that mistake would stay with him for the rest of his entire life was completely out of his hands at that moment, and his fate would be decided by others in a matter of seconds. It was all over but the MLS press release saying "Come see World Cup hero's brother play for the Crew!"
Higuain missed, and Kroos gets a ring. I wonder what he will think of when he looks at it.
It was very considerate of Brazilians not to burn the country to the ground until after the tourists left, although perhaps credit for that should go to police state tactics we've all come to know and love. I'd also like to thank the world's media for not bumming us out about it too much - certainly not once the games started. I liked Kenn Tomasch's summation: "Well, look at it this way, Brazil: at least you got some much-needed infrastructure improvements that will last a lifetime and your people aren't poor anymore." Maybe in 2018 Russia can build edible stadiums. Or convert them into gulags. Comedy soccer blog!
Speaking of hilarious topics, has someone told Christoph Kramer he's a world champion, and did he reply "Great! In what sport?" We're going to have another player die on us at this rate. Either add another substitution (which would also help decrease the number of penalty kick shootouts), have an independent medical examiner during games (which, you know, pretty expensive), or rely on teams and players to take the intelligent, long-term view.
Which, coldly and unfortunately, is going to be "Don't burn a sub in a World Cup Final if you don't absolutely have to." Fine, but hopefully we'll get to the point where we can diagnose that kind of head injury when it happens - rather than after another ten or fifteen painful minutes of running around and getting hit instead of getting to know a neurologist better. I wish I had productive solutions, but by golly, I can worry about it.
Speaking of adding subs - well, we avoided another penalty kick shootout. And great, Germany's bench was deeper and Loew is a better tactician and everyone's already done the Super Mario jokes so I can't make a reference about the princess being in the right castle. The better team won, but man, just barely. My Hot Instant Sports Take was that this was probably the most evenly-matched final since 1966. Yes, I'm including the one actually decided by penalty kicks. A lot of matches are close because one team is significantly less talented, and uses cynicism, entropy, and the unwillingness of referees to become international pariahs to neutralize better players. Looking at you, Italy. This final was two teams that genuinely thought they could beat the other, and - well, basically, were wrong. That was an extremely exciting 0-0 game turned 1-0 game. It deserved better than a home run derby finish.
And please spare me the "PKs are exciting" defense. If all we want is excitement, we'd decide games Aztec-style after one goal, or by Russian roulette, or by rap battle. We've had twenty years to decide whether or not we're really interested in who has the best soccer team in the world, and we're still picking the cheap thrills. Speaks poorly of us. If the first three subs didn't ruin the game, another one or two won't, either. Just don't let them come back in NCAA-style, and we'll be fine. Try it in some lower divisions first, if you don't believe me.
Oh, right, the game. Man, Seattle and Portland have a fantastic rivalry. But a lot of people just aren't going to believe in the Sounders until they make it to, let alone win, MLS Cup. My breakdown of -
Oh, right, that game. How close was it? Bobby McMahon listed a bunch of turning points in a post actually titled This Is How It Could Have Turned Out Differently For Argentina, and doesn't mention Neuer's knee against Higuain's head in the 57th minute. I was reminded of Toni Schumacher, but obviously Higuain wasn't nearly as injured as Battison was. And yes, there were a number of fouls on either side that could have been shown direct reds. And yes, the refereeing crew did an excellent job, I think. I'm not saying Neuer should have been sent off, I'm just saying it wasn't outside the realm of possibility, and it didn't make a commentator's list of actual game turning points.
I think also this is a game that I would show to a new fan, if I wanted to keep them as a new fan. It would be a neat, easy, blogger/Bleacher Report schtick to list the My Favorite Exciting Games of All Time, but my gut reaction is to put it just a little behind the Germany-Italy semifinal of 2006, the US-Germany game in 2002, and the US-Brazil semifinal in 2011. (I'm a Galaxy fan, so I can assure you no game was played in November 9, 2003, let alone an exciting one.)
Actually, that would be a fun discussion - Best and Worst Games to Show a New Fan. I think we saw a lot more of the former this World Cup, and I think it will be well-remembered outside of Italy, Spain, England, and Brazil, where all mention of it will be blotted from history. "Yeah, we were going to host in 2014, but there was a World War. We fought Ming the Merciless. Flash Gordon saved every one of us, you probably heard about it."
Where to from here? The players are getting better - I think Messi and Neymar are going to be awesome in the next cycle or two - and FIFA is getting worse. Russia in 2018 will be both depressing and glorious. And Qatar 2022 will be even better/worse. Borse. Certainly not wetter.
Or we can give 2018 to England and 2022 to the United States, or Mexico, or Morocco, or Montserrat.
By the way, would you rather be presented with the World Cup Golden Ball, or the Ark of the Covenant? It will now be over twenty years since the Golden Ball winner has ended up with a World Cup winner, and Lionel Messi will probably treasure his almost as little as Zidane does for his 2006 performance. Still, at least it's not Colombia winning the Fair Play award, right, Neymar?
....what's really sad about Germany winning is that I never got to use my "Don't Mention the Score" headline