Soccer brings Soldiers, Speicher together
June 29, 2010
On the night of June 26, I was at the Main Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center on Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq. I watched the United States play against Ghana in the Round of 16 in the World Cup.
The atmosphere was something I had never seen before. Soldiers and civilians from many different nations around the world and all walks of life gathered to watch the game. There wasn't an empty seat. All of the TVs had people huddled around them. I have watched quite a few sporting events in my life, but I have never seen a group of people anywhere not at a stadium watching a game as intensely as they were this.
Fans were cheering the entire time. Except for halftime, almost nobody moved away from the TV. On a little outpost in the desert, the people there created so much excitement and energy, it was contagious.
There were many Americans there, that naturally cheered for the U.S. team. I have casually paid attention to the World Cup since I first saw World Cup games in person in 1994, when the games came to America. Fans in the United States never quite seemed to like the World Cup the way other countries did.
This time it was different. There were Americans that were screaming and cheering for their team as much as Ghana fans were. Prior to this game, all over Task Force Marne, servicemembers were buzzing about the U.S. team, in the opening round.
To open the World Cup, the U.S. played a big game against heavily favored England, which ended in a tie. Then they lost against Slovakia, in part, because of what many felt were bad calls against the U.S. Then they won a hard-fought game against Algeria, securing a spot in the Round of 16.
People were sitting and waiting for the match to start close to an hour before the game began. It was a very intense, high-energy match, one of the best in the World Cup so far. But the U.S. team allowed a goal in the opening minutes, something they had done consistently over the last few years. Landon Donovan tied the game with a penalty kick against Ghana. But when the game went to extra time, Ghana won, 2-1.
Many American fans, including myself, went home heartbroken that night.
The Americans played a great game, but overall Ghana played better defense and played a better all-around game.
Still, it was fun to be there with my fellow Soldiers and people from all over the world to watch two teams from opposite sides of the globe play against each other.
There is a saying soccer fans have: "Soccer isn't life and death, it is much more than that."
After that night, seeing people from almost every continent around the world watching that game, I have no doubt that's true.
That night I watched the America-Ghana game, to be one of many Soldiers and Americans to come together to cheer for our nation on the world stage. It is an experience I won't soon forget.