Joining the Yanks

It all started because I needed an essay.

The year was 2012. At that point in my life, I was pretty much in between jobs. I had returned to the first school district I have worked for at the start of my career because they had asked me to return and quite soon, I immediately wished I hadn’t accepted. With my wife’s consent, I decided to move on.

At this point in my life, I was considering a few options for what was next. My home was in Muscatine, Iowa, where I had graduated from high school, and I was keen on trying to teach there. I thought it was a good district and my kids were attending school there at the time, so I thought that might be a fun experience.

I also had a high in the sky dream that I might become a full-time professor at another place – Muscatine Community College (MCC). That went to some old fantasies I had of being a professor/writer, like I had first seen on the University of Iowa campus. I could picture myself teaching three or four classes a semester, hanging out on some spacious campus lounge during my off times, and putting together a novel every two years or something like that. I could picture myself teaching kids eager to be the next Hemingway or James Patterson to spread their literary (or genre) wings. Older people still need their fantasies, kids.

To accomplish these goals, I decided to start substitute teaching at the school district and started working as an adjunct instructor at MCC. In the district, I taught everything from pre-school to high school; at MCC, I taught composition and writing. While I was substituting for other teachers in the district and teaching their lessons, the MCC class was totally my own. I designed it with input from mentors who were full-time instructors there, and I did all the evaluating and grading. Both positions, coincidentally, were part-time. That obviously meant no benefits and varying hours, depending on the situation on any given week. I wanted to show that I was interested in working for both organizations and contributing to them.

Due to a multitude of factors, I never did work for either the district or MCC full-time. The exact reasons aren’t important anymore and I’ve long moved on since that time. In fact, about a year later I’d chuck all of that to briefly come out of retirement from journalism and work for my hometown newspaper for about 18 months. However, something happened as part of that teaching that was something of a thought experiment to me.

As part of my work with MCC, I was designing my own course to teach online – a virtual composition course. This was during the early years when online teaching was beginning to unfold – no Zoom, no live chat. However, it was writing, and I’d like to think that I was putting together some good online instruction.

When I was starting to design that course, I had a chance to examine some existing composition courses from some of the other instructors. One of the things that I noticed that at least a couple of those instructors were using sample essays that were written by other students. As I was just starting out as a composition instructor, I didn’t have ready access to some good example essays from students. Because of that, I decided to put together one of my own essays to fill in the gap.

As one of the strategies I was teaching was descriptive writing, I figured I’d put together an essay that would include a strong description of something I had experienced. The idea behind such an essay is to give a dominant impression of whatever subject that you are describing. You want your audience to feel something about your subject, to have a deeper understanding of it. At this point in my life, there was one subject that I wanted to write about more than anything else. That subject was soccer.

For the past couple of years, I had been interested in the Chicago Fire Soccer Club (now the Chicago Fire Football Club). Soccer had been a longtime interest of mine (more on the origins of that subject later), but at that point in my life I had become obsessed with soccer in both domestic and foreign leagues, an obsession that has only grown in the years since. That summer, however, I had my first chance to watch a pro game live, in Chicago, with my son and one of my friends from Muscatine. It was an amazing experience… so I wanted to talk about it.

The result of all of this was “Joining the Men in Red,” a first-person account of that match. Is it a perfect example of a descriptive essay, like what I would find in some of the composition textbooks I used for my classes? Maybe not. Were there one of two things I could have made better? Maybe. But I think it had a lot of heart and passion, and I think it did reflect what I truly felt about the sport and its fandom.

And I was able to use that essay for those classes. I even found that it would up being useful for later classes (back at the high school level) where I used it as a descriptive writing example. Heck, even last year, I ended up using it in a composition class I was teaching at my new high school, and it wound up being a good resource.

However, this year, I had the opportunity to have another soccer experience that was brand-new for me but involved the oldest love of my soccer fandom. After that second experience, I started to wonder if it wasn’t time for a second essay about my soccer fandom, that used that second experience as an opportunity to express how I felt about the sport and one team in particular.

This is the result of that urge.

So, about 10 years after I tried this for the first time, I’m going to do something of a spiritual sequel to that article. Let’s hang out with the Yanks.

Joining the Yanks: A love letter to soccer

By Jason Liegois


22 June 1994

Like all fandoms, it began with a game.

It was 22 June 1994.[1] I was back home in Muscatine after another year at the University of Iowa. I was slowly preparing for an interesting but ultimately quixotic career in journalism. I think at that point I might have started doing some freelance articles for the Muscatine Journal. I do remember clearly that the next month I would be commuting nearly an hour round trip to Burlington, Iowa so that I could intern with the Burlington Hawkeye and write some feature articles for them that month[2].

At that point, however, I was more concerned about just mellowing out and having a good summer break. Likely I filled up that time with some form of video games, haunting the local library (again, I’ve gotten late fee fines from libraries from at least five Iowa counties), and hanging out with my girlfriend and future wife either at my parent’s house or her mother’s. On 22 June 1994, it happened to be over at her mom’s place.

At some point, I had the idea to turn on the television in their living room. I had heard that what I would later learn was called the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT)[3] was playing that day against the Colombian national team. It was a rare occasion for me – I mean, you don’t have a World Cup happen every year, of course.

Before we get into what happened next, I should probably step back and give you some idea of my relationship toward soccer at this point.

Soccer: The past

It started, as most things did when I was a kid, with a book.

I don’t even remember the book’s exact title. I know it came out in the early 1980’s, and I think it was co-sponsored by AYSO, which was and still is one of the big youth soccer organizations in America. It had all of the rules of the game, and what soccer fields looked like. To me it seemed a lot simpler that American football, or gridiron[4].

It was definitely a book of its time. The common positions of soccer players were listed in a 2-3-5 formation (also known as a Pyramid), which had become old-fashioned as far back as the 1950’s and totally obsolete twenty years later. There was not much talk about different leagues or teams, but I found out about several top football stars of the 1960’s and 1970’s. I remember learning about Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Kyle Rote Jr., Shep Messing, and George Best. All of them happened to be top players in the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the 1970’s-1980’s.

The book did get me started thinking about soccer… but that was about all that it could do.

Lads and lasses, the 1980s were a desert when it came to soccer fandom. The NASL was already belly-up, so if you wanted to watch soccer live, you usually wound up watching youth or high school/college soccer, or perhaps indoor soccer, which was about the only type of pro soccer going on at the time in America. I knew that there were such things as national soccer sides and the existence of the World Cup, but I had no idea who was on the USMNT and what it was called, much less who was on the team at the moment or the fact that they hadn’t played in the World Cup since 1950. And if you really wanted to watch a game on television? Tough luck, nerd – be happy with the Chicago Cubs double-header.

So, for a while I’d only encounter soccer as a player. The YMCA in our town sponsored youth soccer teams, so I wound up playing for several teams during my elementary school years. I was usually a left back or right back defender, and very right-footed. I was quite good at getting to a ball in our half of the field and punting it away from us. I would have been a good back in England back in the 1940s through the 1970s. No Roberto Carlos, Cafu, Viv Anderson, or Trent Alexander-Arnold was I[5]. I never took the opportunity to play soccer on the high school level. I might have actually had a chance to make the team, but I didn’t. It was one of the few things that I really wish I had participated in back in high school[6], but if that is the biggest regret of my life, I will be a lucky person.

So, that was the status of my football fandom up until 1994. I knew that the World Cup was going to come to America that year, even though there wasn’t any top-flight soccer league in the US at that point. It turned out US organizers promised to start Major League Soccer two years later, so the US World Cup was ready to go.

As always, I tended to read up on stuff I wanted to know about. I knew that Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, and Columbia were the favorites to win the World Cup. I knew some of the names of the players on our team, but I couldn’t be sure that I would be able to identify them if I encountered them in a crowded bar. I had no idea whatsoever that fans were packing places like Soldier Field, the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, and Foxboro Stadium, setting live attendance records that still haven’t been beaten. Take that, Brazil, Russia, and Qatar[7].

U.S. v. Colombia

Now, let’s set the stage for me turning on the television, heh heh.

I knew that we had tied against Switzerland a couple of days back. That gave us a point. The two teams in the group (or best three teams, depending on their results) would continue toward the knockout stages and I wanted that for the boys. From what I knew, I knew that we needed to have at the very least one win before we could progress to the knockout rounds.

However, I wasn’t sure that we were going to do well against Columbia. I remembered that Pele, of all people, had said that they would go all the way and win. I knew that they had the midfielder Carlos Valderrama, who ran everything from the center of the field with pin-point passing.

As for our guys, I was slightly vaguer on details. I knew our goalkeeper and captain was Tony Meola, and from what I had heard he was pretty good. I didn’t know the backup keepers, Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel, were just as good. I could recognize center back Alexi Lalas with his wild red hair and goatee. I could recognize Cobi Jones with his dreadlocks, and I had seen some footage where it looked like he had some pace. I’d heard some good things about Eric Wynalda and future US soccer executive Earnie Stewart. I also knew our coach (I didn’t know ‘manager’ was the preferred word at the time) was a Serbian named Bora.

However, that was about it. I had little knowledge of what European club soccer was like. I didn’t know how transfers worked, or even what the European Champions League was all about. I liked the game, though, and I was interested to see a team that represented my country.

It would be a miracle if we were able to even get a result (a tie, which would guarantee us one point). I knew the USMNT was going to play Romania in the last group game. I figured that if we were able to beat Romania and at least tie Columbia (which remember, was expecting to win the whole damn thing), we had a chance at least a slight change to move on to the next round. It wasn’t much of a hope, but it was a little bit of a hope.

I realized that the game had already gotten started by the time that I had gotten to my future mother-in-law’s house. Even if I got to watch the last bit of the game, I figured it would be better than nothing.

I got the remote and turned the television on. I recognized that they were playing at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and was happy to see the stadium pretty much filled. I also noticed that the clock indicated that it was the 60th minute, so it was well into the second half.

An instant after that, I noticed the score.

USA 2-0 COL.

I jumped off the couch and whooped for joy. My girlfriend and her family poked their heads into the room (they were hanging out in the kitchen, as I recalled) and wondered what the hell had gotten into me. “We’re winning!” I called out, and they were convinced that I was nuts.

I followed along with the commentary (I don’t remember who was making the call that day) and learned that the first goal was the result of an own-goal by a Colombian defender by the name of Andres Escobar[8]. They showed the replay of it… it was horrible, to have an own goal to your credit. Then there was the goal by Earnie Steward, and then we were at 2-0.

If your team in football is ahead by a score of 2-0… you are doing pretty well. Some people think that you are doing well if you are ahead by a score of 1-0, but those people are Italians and are mentally wrong when it comes to soccer. 2-0 is a bit better to handle.

I was in ecstasy as I watched the Yanks fight against the Colombians. I knew that maybe they didn’t have the pure skill or pure ball-handling abilities of people like the Brazilians, the Germans, the Italians, the Argentinians, and others, but they had fire, they had heart. Every time they got next to the ball, the dived for it so that they could get it out of the hands of the Colombians. I admired that so much; it reminded me of the Green Bay Packers on a cold winter’s day[9].

The ref’s whistle sounded, and I saw the score. USA 2-1 COL (one of the Colombians scored in the 90th minute). A win.

There was no helping it then. I was a fan of the USMNT from then on[10]. I was absolutely devoted to them, whether they won or lost. Red, White, and Blue, a Yank and American supporter, that was it. I was in.

I would have killed to have gotten a ticket to either of the next two games that the USMNT were going to play in the World Cup. But I was a young kid with not too many resources. So, I had to watch on the screen what happened next.

We lost to Romania, only to qualify for the knockout rounds, which hadn’t happened in 40 years, so good for us. We made it to the next round, only for the eventual winner’s Brazil to knock us out after we had kept things scoreless during the first half[11]. I felt so sad to hear that Escobar got killed back in his native Columbia, apparently over the own-goal. He was just 27 years old and about to play in Italy. It was a real shame[12].

So, from then, until now, I was a fan of the USMNT. Do or die, there was I.

I’m A Fan of the Yanks. Now What?

Well, there were a lot of ups and downs regarding the USMNT after those days.

There was the 1998 run with Steve Sampson and I didn’t feel comfortable with any of his rubbish. I was glad that his butt got fired soon afterwards.

2002 was the beginning of the glory years, absolutely. We had Bruce Arena, who I still consider the best American-born soccer coach in history (despite his second fateful run as the USMNT coach)[13]. And that was a side, man. We had Brad Friedel in goal, who set a record for most consecutive starts in the Premier League, and a back line that included future USMNT coach Greg Berhalter. We had a lot of guys from my generation, like Cobi Jones, Eddie Pope, and a smooth as silk passing midfielder named Claudio Reyna.

The second-most important game of my fandom happened during that tournament during the round of 16. It was the first time that we had faced the Mexican national team – El Tri – in a World Cup. I would have to say (paraphrasing a famed saying about NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip) that I hate warm pop, unfriendly people, and El Tri([14]. They walked on thinking that they’d play us off the park, but Brian McBride got us a goal in the eighth minute, and the second goal was scored by a slick 20-year-old named Landon Donovan. Two to nothing, Dos a Cero, thank you very much. From then on, we weren’t just the noisy neighbors for Mexico.

The third biggest game in my fandom was when we lost to 2-1 in 2017 to Trinidad and Tobago. It was the last game we played would allow us to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. 28 years of qualifying successfully for the World Cup down the drain. I knew that I had to watch that one at home because I had a bad feeling about it and I didn’t want to act up around people. I was glad that fans got mad about it and held Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena, our last two managers, accountable. It was all over the news and a big scandal at the time.

Like with any fandom, there’s been some ups and downs. But recently, there’s been more ups than downs. Last year in 2021, we beat Mexico three times in a single year, which had never happened before. We beat them in a final to win the CONCACAF[15] Nations League, which was the first time that competition had taken place. We beat them in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final to win that competition, and then we got a crucial win against Mexico in the qualifying race to the World Cup 2022. We finally managed to qualify for the tourney earlier this year, and so I’m glad that we’re not going to have to worry about qualifying again for a long while, if not ever[16].

What’s exciting for me following the team now is that there are so many good young players now getting into the team and getting fans excited by the future. There’s Christian Pulisic, a great young winger who just became the fastest US international to get 20 goals and 10 assists for his country. He was one of the few players going well during the last World Cup qualifying, but he’s only going to be 23 during the tournament[17]. Another great winger is Tim Weah, whose daddy George Weah managed to win FIFA Player of the Year back in 1995 or so. Then there’s a kid who plays as a midfielder for Borussia Dortmund in Germany by the name of Giovanni (Gio) Reyna – and yes, it’s Claudio Reyna’s boy. In 2021, the average age of our team was around 24 years – one of the youngest sides that we’ve ever managed to field in the history of American soccer. I love seeing the younger kids coming up, making a mark. The future seems so bright watching them move and pass and shoot on the pitch. Hope springs eternal and all that.

I Finally Get a Chance

Even with my fandom, I had never had a chance to attend a game with the USMNT in person. This was not much of a surprise. I am an Iowa boy, even though I was born in Hillsdale, Ill., outside Chicago. I was never close enough to any major city to make it absolutely convenient to attend a game. I lived in eastern Iowa for most of my life and south-central Iowa for the rest of it. Chicago, Kansas City, and Minneapolis were the closest cities that would even think of hosting a USMNT match, and all of those places were at the very least two hours away and however many dollars before I could ever get a ticket. It was inconvenient, for sure.

However, I was in-between priorities around June of 2022 and I started wondering why I hadn’t taken the opportunity to attend a match of the USMNT until that time. I got the idea in my head that now would be a great time for me to get the business done before I had to get back to school and all the strangeness of the regular classroom life. At this point, it was difficult hurdle to overcome.

I looked around at myself, considered that my wife and children had no particular interest in joining me to attend a match due to their schedules at that time. I mean, they were very willing to accept and understand my fandom, but they were not necessarily willing to join in with y intense fandom. And that’s… all right.

At this time, there weren’t any serious games that we were playing. There were a few CONCACAF Nations League games they were playing, but one of them was out of the country. The one Nations League game they were playing in the US was in Austin, Texas, and I wasn’t going to go however many miles that would be from Iowa. I did that once, and that was an ordeal. So, there were two possibilities for me at that moment, and both of them were friendlies. Friendlies are the soccer equivalent of exhibitions. Usually the USMNT does those friendly games to get their lads or lasses ready for the games that count, just like pre-season for the NFL and NBA, for example. There was one game in Cincinnati with the Moroccan national team and a game in Kansas City with the Uruguayan national team. 5 June 2022. With money being what it was and me wanting to see some sort of game, I elected to go with the game in Kansas City.

With about $100 in cash out, I had my electronic ticket ready to go and ready to watch the Yanks. I knew it wasn’t going to be the easiest of games for us. I mean, this was Uruguay.  Winners of the World Cup in 1930 and 1950. Uruguay, the perennial powerhouse in South America.

But, it was a game. It was close enough to me that it wasn’t going to be an insane investment of funds or time, like going to Cincinnati (which was an option) or like New York City. And after all these years, I was going to be in the stands.

Making It to the Park

The 20,000-seat stadium is called Children’s Mercy Park, the second of a couple of name changes due to sponsoring issues. One of those old names had to do with the idiot jerk Lance Armstrong’s charity, but that’s been long gone. To make it simple, I’m just going to refer to it as Sporting Park.

It is a nice little arena, located not in Kansas City, Missouri, but across the Missouri River in Kansas City, Kansas. It actually is just across the street from the Kansas Speedway, which is easily eight times the size of Sporting Park. You can see the speedway looming in the distance, and then the nice little blue steel, concrete, and glass square stadium off to the side.

I have been going to sports stadiums for most of my life. In years past, most of them have been what I would call traditional North American-designed stadiums, either a bowl design or anywhere from two to four stands surrounding a field. Soldier Field in Chicago would be one of those places, even though the 2003 redesign which removed it from the National Register makes it look like one of the UFO’s from V: The Miniseries landed right in the middle of the stadium. Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, is a nice, comfortable squared-off stadium with a homey rich brown brick exterior but somewhat uncomfortable and crowded seating. For a change of pace, I remember watching the Minnesota Vikings in a domed stadium, the late, great Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, and finding it to be a pleasant experience.

Over the years, however, I’ve tended to appreciate the European design of football stadiums, which almost always include roofs for their stands, leaving the field open to the outdoors. In recent years, there have been some nice soccer-specific stadiums built in the US. Before Sporting Park, the first one I went to is now called SeatGeek Stadium in the southwestern Chicago suburbs. It was the home of the Chicago Fire for a brief spell before they returned to Soldier Field, and was where I watched the Fire several times through a relatively low period in their history, which continues to this day. I mean, it was all right, but it’s not the greatest of stadiums. For example, only two out of the four stands had roofs.

Then, I went to Sporting Park. I’d long heard that it was one of the nicer stadiums in Major League Soccer. It did not disappoint.

Sporting Park was arguably the nicest and well-designed stadiums I’ve ever been in. The seating throughout the stadium is right next to the action. Plenty of overpriced food and drink, but it was good quality and little wait lines. I decided to seat in the northeast stands, which were the designated “supporters” section, nicknamed The Cauldron. Sporting KC fan groups typically pack those stands, but on that day, it was all USA fans and quite a few of the American Outlaws, one of the more prominent USMNT fan groups. Those stands were filled with red, white and blue-dressed fans and there were American flags on poles to wave during the game as well. I commandeered one of those for the game. Although the majority of fans were definitely there for the US, I did see several distinctive Uruguayan sky-blue jerseys in clusters throughout the crowds and in the concourses as well.

Again, Uruguay was nobody to mess with as far as a team. They were packed with talented players all throughout. One of their vets was Edinson Cavani, a top striker who had spent time at Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain, and Manchester United (he would be off to Valencia soon after this game). I knew it wasn’t a gimme. I never put my hopes on the boys pulling out a win. I just wanted them to have a good showing for themselves.

And after nearly 30 years of waiting for the experience, I began to see our boys come out to the field, Christian, Tim Weah, Weston McKennie, and the rest of the lot file out to the field and begin warming up. By the time I sang along with the National Anthem (Uruguay’s anthem was not bad, either), I had finally convinced myself I was there.

Rooting for the USMNT is hard

For those of you that watch soccer, you might note the activity of fans they call ultras on the sidelines. They end up standing, singing and chanting throughout the game, waving flags and other banners. It’s a loud and consistent soundtrack to the game, and they keep it up for the entire game, only pausing for roaring screams of joy, relief, or frustration depending on who is scoring, just missed scoring, or if a foul or penalty was missed.

It had been a couple of years since I had stood in an ultras section, and I realized very quickly that it takes a lot of energy to keep that up for two 45-plus minutes of action. Gentle reader, I did not possess that much energy to keep up, but I was no less passionate about my fandom than everyone else there. I cheered along with everyone else, even though I made use of the benches a bit more than some. (I was relieved when the sun started to move and we finally got some shade from the roof overhead.)

One of the things that was a slight disappointment was that the American Outlaws didn’t vary up their chants and songs too much. It always is a slight drag when the songs you hear in the stands sound much like those you hear in other stadiums. Like, I do appreciate teams that have songs unique to them, like “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” for West Ham United.

And it seemed like they never took a break from the singing, either. The minute one song ended, some of the capos, or people who led the cheering and singing, would get right on with the other one. You missed the opportunity for some singing to spring up spontaneously. I would have loved to get a few choruses of “Young Americans” by David Bowie in the stands. I mean, that would seem an obvious choice for the USMNT, right? And it’s a good chorus to chant, as well. Well, you can’t have everything.

The Milkman

There had been about an 11-year gap between this game and the first professional soccer match I watched live. My son Jacob and I went to Soldier Field back in 2011 to watch the Chicago Fire play a friendly against Manchester United. Like that game with the USMNT, I was there for the experience and pageantry; I wasn’t expecting a win. The Manchester United that the Chicago Fire were playing was the Man U of Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, a host of other superstars, and Sir Alex Ferguson coaching from the sidelines. And the Chicago Fire were, well, the Chicago Fire. I thought the Fire gave a good account of themselves that day, and Jacob and I had a great time.

As it turned out, there was one thing both of those games had in common, other than the fact that I was in the stands for both of them. Both of the teams I was cheering for had the same goalkeeper.

Sean Everet Johnson was a kid born in Georgia roughly 33 years ago to Jamaican-American parents. He could have played for Jamaica, and he did have some tryouts for the Jamaican under-17 and under-20 squads, but he eventually chose us.

After playing college soccer at the University of Central Florida, he got taken in the MLS Draft by the Fire in 2010. In the year that he’d been playing for the Fire, the 6’3″ keeper had become a star for the club with his shot-stopping abilities. He got the nickname The Milkman during that time – because he always seemed to deliver.

By the time Johnson got a start in that Uruguay friendly in Kansas City, he’d been through some highs and lows, for sure. He’d been the keeper for the USMNT’s under-23 squad that had washed out of qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games, and he’d suffered through several dire seasons with the Fire at the bottom of MLS’s Eastern Conference. But back in 2016, he’d gotten transferred to the newly formed New York City Football Club and saw a revival of his career. He’d played superbly for them, and the previous year had finally won an MLS Cup with the club. He also got named man of the match for the MLS Final. And after being in and out with the national team, he was getting another look and at least an outside chance of being on the squad for the World Cup later that year. Although he’d long left the Fire, I always admired him.

It was a big back-and-forth battle between us and Uruguay. We had most of the possession and most of the chances, including a nice little corner kick from Christian that Weston just skied over the crossbar. The Uruguayans kept coming, however.

There was this one moment that some forward, a kid I’d never heard of named Darwin Nunez, was making some great plays – first one shot that went wide, and then setting up two other teammates for goal attempts. I was a bit more embarrassed for not knowing about him later when he got transferred later that summer to the English Premier League team I follow, Liverpool.

Then, right around the 63rd minute of the game, there was an inviting little ball that drifted into the penalty area and Nunez jumped in as fast as you like and redirected it to the goal with his foot… and Johnson blocked it with his shin at the very last second.

That was one of three saves he made that day. It was because of him that we managed to get the draw that day. We would have lost for sure if not for him and the fact Edinson missed an absolute sitter of a goal in the last minutes of the second half.

What amazed me is how quick the man moves for someone as big as him. It’s amazing when you see a top class athlete live in action and compare him to regular people. The first time I’d experienced that was at a boxing match in 1996 in the Quad Cities[18] and watched former world champion Hector “Macho” Camacho wade in against a notable local fighter and hit him three times in the head before the other boxer could even react. I got the same feeling looking at Johnson that day.

At the end of the match, Johnson was at the goal right in front of our section. As everybody was cheering, I yelled out “Milkman! Yes!” I really don’t think he heard me, but it was the thought that counted.

On 9 November 2022, Sean Johnson would be named to the United States Men’s National Team squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

After

I drove home that night to Iowa contented. I’d finally seen the USMNT play live, crossing off a big bucket list item. They had gotten a result against a far better team at home. At least we were in a lot better position that year than having to watch the World Cup at home four years ago and the lads not playing.

I definitely want to make it to some more games before I’m all done. One more bucket list item for me is watching the USMNT play live in the World Cup. That might be a tougher ticket… but then again, the US, Canada, and Mexico are jointly hosting the tournament here in four years. You never know.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. I’ve become more of a fan of the European date format recently. It seems to make more sense than how we put the month, day, and year in that order. You notice that with the European format, it goes from the smallest time period to the largest (day, month, year). It appeals to my sense of writing organization.
  2. After two separate applications to the paper, I finally managed to get a job at the Journal nearly 20 years after I first applied to it and beginning a teaching career. That lasted for about 18 months before I got back into teaching. Nowadays if there’s any more than three or four people working in that building for that paper I would be surprised. The Hawkeye is a shell of its former self now that it is owned by a big company, and they turfed out the managing editor who I reported to after thirty-plus years of him working there. But that’s another story.
  3. When I say I am a fan of the USMNT, I am including by implication the other national soccer teams that make up US Soccer (the US women’s national team, all the US youth teams (Under-23s, Under-20s, etc.). One of the most memorable matches I remember watching during my fandom was hanging out at an East Davenport pub with members of the Quad Cities chapter of the American Outlaws and watching Carli Lloyd do her best Steven Gerrard impression and smashing in three goals as cool as you like in a 5-2 hammering of Japan in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final. Steve Gerrard was the famed midfielder and captain for Liverpool in the 2000s-2010s who was well-known for sweeping in and winning games for his club. A great guy and an exciting player.
  4. A word on terminology.
    I am not a stickler for language and what we call this game. The official title of the game is association football, which is the title that you will find under if you go on Wikipedia. Soccer is a nickname derived from this official name. It was used in the UK, but now simply “football” is in fashion there as it is with the rest of the world while soccer is still popular there. It can be confusing since there is of course rugby football, Gaelic football, and Australian Rules football, never mind American football. For the purposes of this writing, I will refer to association football interchangeably as soccer or football. As for American football, I will use the term “gridiron” or “handegg” (since the ball looks like an egg and you carry it with your hands). Hope that sorts everything out.
  5. Just look them up, kids.
  6. Sometime during the late 1990s, I wound up playing a season in an adult soccer league in Clinton, Iowa. I was rubbish, as always, but one of the highlights was playing against someone who had been a Cameroonian national player. I don’t recall his name at the moment.
  7. Seriously, screw those last two countries, and screw Bolsonaro in Brazil as well.
  8. He was not related in any way to the Columbian drug lord Carlos Escobar; at however, Carlos did own the club that Andres played for in Columbia.
  9. I had reenergized my fandom of the Green Bay Packers back in 1992, when Brett Favre had come onto the field during the second game of that season and never gave up his starting position. It would not be until years later that I would learn what a piece of crap that he was on a personal level. Anyway.
  10. This was despite the fact that the USMNT’s kit for the 1994 World Cup was absolute garbage and a disgrace to America. There is only ONE proper first choice kit for the USMNT, and that is the Waldo. LOOK AT THIS GLORIOUS SHIRT.
  11. And the hell with Leonardo for knocking Tab Ramos out of the World Cup. I hope nothing good ever happens to that dirtbag ever again. I laughed my ass off when he got fired as sporting director for Paris St.-Germain.
  12. If you want the whole story about Columbian soccer leading up to the World Cup, “The Two Escobars” episode of the 30 for 30 series on ESPN is the definitive documentary on that subject.
  13. I am not going to turn this essay into an explanation of the history of US Soccer from 1994 to the present day, but I do have to have a slight amount of background to explain how in-depth this fandom has been for me. I think that I am making this footnote to remind myself to keep it as short as possible.
  14. The saying, a T-shirt slogan recalled by Darrell Waltrip in his memoirs, was “I hate warm beer, cold women, and Darrell Waltrip.”
  15. The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football – essentially, the organization in charge of soccer competitions for the region which includes the USA.
  16. Since we are co-hosting the event in 2026, we automatically qualify. Also, given that main organization sponsoring the World Cup (FIFA) is planning on expanding the size of the tournament, I think that its going to be almost impossible not to qualify for the tournament moving forward considering the relative weaknesses of our fellow CONCACAF teams except for Canada and Mexico.
  17. I have to admit that a couple of years ago I might have suggested my daughter date and marry this young man. She’s about two years younger than him, by the way.
  18. A metro area on the Iowa-Illinois border near my hometown of Muscatine. Ironically, it’s made up of five cities.

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