Nike’s been putting a lot of effort into winning over the United States in order to usher them into a world of caring about soccer. For Americans, the sport is not the easiest translation. We’re a country that invents sports more often than we participate in them. Soccer, being crafted by the British, is not our national past time, so much so that we named football “football” not caring even a little bit that there was already a “football” that actually used feet. That is super American of us. I like it. Also, we’re kind of into sports where we use our hands. You know what I mean.
As a young kid, I saw the World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, seeing Brazil best Italy in a shootout. It was very exciting, in no small part due to the fact Hakeem Olajuwon was sitting like three people down from me. That was awesome. Also, I met Kenny G in the tunnel. He had his clarinet and we were both wearing the awesome 1994 US National Team jersey, only his predictably read “Kenny G” on the back. He was honestly so nice that to this day I have always felt bad when people make fun of him. It’s like, the dude just wants to have the Lisa Turtle haircut and play his clarinet. Can we leave him alone? He got famous for Clarinet post-Vietnam. The man is a fucking national treasure. Wow, Zack.
Anyway, the point I meant to head towards was that for America to care about soccer, we need to feel involved in it. After Sam’s Army won their the collective American heart with a 91st minute strike off the foot of Landon Donovan, the whole country was excited to watch the team take on Ghana. Big hopes for a country that dreams big.
Nike had been holding screenings of the World Cup matches at the Montalban theater in Hollywood, just around the corner from the W Hotel. The lines have been around the corner and I had heard the USA v Algeria match screening was legendary. I knew I had to get it on, so I made some calls and invited two of my most decrepit friends with me to see the match. We decided to go for the full soccer experience and start drinking beer very, very early in the morning. Step one was a rousing success.
When we arrived at the Montalban, the line was around the corner and people were decked out in full American regalia. It was like a rivalry game in college football only there were no people for the other team. I wondered if there would be any Ghana supporters. I wondered if I knew anyone who was from Ghana. I knew a man from the Ivory Coast once. I liked saying Côte d’Ivoire literally all the time. It is fun to say.
Inside, the theater was really well decked out. “WRITE THE FUTURE” was spelled on the wall in soccer kits and below it, vats of energy drinks, coconut water and regular water all en route to the bathroom. In the center, there was a bar dolling out free beer. Once was a really strong microbrew and the other was the strangest beer I’d ever had, apparently a Mexican lager with chili oil in it. It set my insides on fire. The bartenders all looked like the cute soccer player you dated in high school, which was awesome. There was also a dude who just had about 300 hot dogs on him at all times. This was beer and hot dogs and soccer. Everyone was tipsy before eleven in the morning.
The theater was set up perfectly. There was a main screen and two side screens presenting content as well. There were lots of facts regarding the game being flashed. Watching in a theater with rabid fans and Nike lead ins was sick. They had the timing down so that when the lights went down, the players came right out of the tunnel. At one point I made the comment that I’d love to watch playoff baseball this way (you know I’ll be at the Ravine, just saying). It was an epic feel. I kept screaming the word vuvuzela, which was fun to do. There was almost continuous chanting and cheering the entire time.
When Donovan scored the equalizer on his penalty kick, the place almost exploded. It was a total party and it became apparent that everyone was not only invested, but knee deep in free beer. That said, the crowd briefly turned when Ghana scored their winning goal and proceeded to flop for the next 20 minutes. I felt some restlessness in the crowd. I think at the deepest level, men being carried off the field on stretchers to waste time goes a bit against all we were taught as young athletes. That said, the capacity crowd cheered through the final second, standing and writhing with each near miss. It was honestly an electric crowd.
Even with the U.S. gone, I plan to attend another one of these events, a nice preview of what soccer could be in this country. Here is the schedule I snagged for anyone interested in getting in on the free beer, crazy intensity and general excitement of the later knockout stage battles.