Reconnecting to full emotions of fandom by suffering through US Soccer's failure

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- I root, far too hard, for seven-year-old soccer and baseball players.

My son and his best buds are an extraordinary bunch, just like your bunch, and I take great joy in watching them work together, learn, compete and succeed.

At 48, my life as a die-hard fan, jaded by over two decades as a sportswriter, has been boiled down to the bare minimum: U.S Soccer and the New York Yankees I grew up rooting for in Central New Jersey.WorldCuplogo

The two have collided in recent days, with crucial stakes for both. Yankees manager Joe Girardi ridiculously didn’t challenge a monumental call Friday night and his blunder led to a loss. They’ve recovered for two wins and could still advance to the ALCS Wednesday night in Cleveland.

The U.S. games Friday night and Tuesday night were even bigger, with World Cup qualification on the line. They won the first in magnificent fashion, a super 4-0 home win over Panama.

But the second one was one of the biggest disasters of my life as a sporting fan. I always try to be aware of recency bias and am generally hesitant to call what just happened the best or the worst.

But this was the worst.

For the first time since I have been old enough to care, the national team won’t be in the World Cup.

That’s because of a 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago that I missed live while I took care of my Periscope/Facebook Live obligation at Old School in Cool Springs.

There was no avoiding the game no matter my intention of coming home to see it, result unknown. Periscopers shared developments along the way and then, with the final verdict from our game and those of Panama and Honduras, the devastating alert came over the phone on which I was broadcasting.

Christian Pulisic, 19 right now, is on track to be our best player ever, and he will miss one of the four World Cups played during his peak years.

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I have some anger issues. I can explode when my damn dog barks at the other pups being walked by outside and refuses to come inside. I can lose it with a stupid caller on The Midday 180. I boil when I encounter people who don’t understand they can’t be stopped with no room to clear an intersection when the light changes.

But this kind of angry is different, and it’s been a while.

I was at the U.S. Gold Cup semifinal loss to Jamaica in Atlanta in 2015. It was miserable, but it didn’t cost me the ability to enjoy my country participating in the world’s biggest sporting event a year later. It made American soccer a laughing stock, but that was nothing compared to this, and it didn’t serve to get me ready.

Luis Gonzalez’s broken-bat single to win Game 7 of the 2001 World Series was awful, but the Yankees were incredible with their dramatics in that series. In the aftermath of 9-11, I shared a feeling with some others that a win would have almost been too good as we tried to find a distraction in the world that had just changed. We were already so hurt, the sting that comes from your team losing a biggie just couldn’t be the same. We’d been sidetracked for a bit, and that was as much as seemed fair to ask.

Because of my limited rooting interests, I feel compelled to see things all the way through. Win or lose in a big moment, I need to see it to the end, to watch all the postgame, to read all the best people. To feel it in its entirety.

So I got home last night knowing what happened and how bad it was, and nevertheless I said this:

And several of you discourged it.

I didn’t listen.

And so I saw the horrific own goal by Omar Gonzalez on an easily clearable ball. And the miracle shot from T&T’s Alvin Jones from what, 40 yards, that beat Tim Howard.

All inside the first 37 minutes.

And even knowing the result ahead of time, I felt sick. Pulisic scored, but I knew there would be nothing more. The picture of CONCACAF became clearer, and Honduras and Panama each miraculously scored two goals in the second halves of their games to get the third spot and the playoff spot, one of the spots that should have been ours. One that could have been ours if the lone American who bright real energy, second-half sub Clint Dempsey, didn’t have one good chance saved and watch another clank the post.

I want to not care.

It was never my mission outside the NFL, but the way it's gone I’ve minimized my rooting and can give you cold, detached, logical analysis on the vast majority of game results.

But I’d really be dead as an analyst if I was so far removed from caring that I couldn’t relate to the highs and lows you enjoy and endure with your teams, particularly the Titans. The teams I can comment on without much emotion.

I’m emotional now.

I’m furious.

So I suppose this connects us somehow. It reminds me of things I haven’t been reminded of too often recently, not on a scale like this.

Please, Dear Lord, allow me to be reminded of the better side of it Wednesday night with a Yankees win in Cleveland.

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