I should start by saying that most of what I know about soccer I learned from my sons, whom I helped coach in a former life — their early elementary school years. I use the word “coach” loosely. My main responsibility was seeing that none of the players chased a ball into the street. In effect, I was, effectively, a deputy assistant.
My sons, Connor and Preston, picked up the game from a variety of sources — genuine coaches, for instance, and friends on school playgrounds. Soccer video games also helped. And both sons married women who were starters on their college soccer teams.
I can’t compete with all that. Nobody played soccer when was a kid. I mostly played baseball, on organized teams consisting of players 9-12 years old and at other times with whomever in the neighborhood wanted to play.
And I didn’t marry a college soccer player. Maggie is accomplished in many ways, but she would be the first to acknowledge athletics is not one of them.
Still, somehow, she and I began to understand soccer, became pretty good at identifying when a player is offsides and even grew to appreciate the beauty in a 1-0 game.
We learned enough to enjoy an evening the last two summers watching Sporting Kansas City prevail in the team’s home park. With a capacity of about 22,000, the stadium is not huge as professional sports arenas go, but it was built specifically for soccer and is a great home field.
And we learned enough to relish a special treat a couple of weeks ago. Maggie and I, along with Connor and Preston and their wives, watched the U.S.A. men’s team beat Panama 1-0 in the final game of group play in the Gold Cup.
After a scoreless first half, Jozy Altidore scored on a bicycle kick which, if I am allowed to sound like a homer, was spectacular.
Preston, whose wife played soccer at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, deserves credit for our attendance. He called from Brazil back in April when the pairings and game sites were announced and told us Kansas City would host one of the games (actually two games; the U.S.-Panama game was part of a doubleheader).
When Preston called, I didn’t know there was such a thing as the Gold Cup. (Obviously, I still have much to learn).
The CONCACAF (how’s that for an acronym) Gold Cup goes to the champion from among national competitors comprising the North American, Central American and Caribbean regions.
Other parts of the world have similar competitions, with Europe and South America getting the most attention.
Many of the Americans we saw play will also be on the U.S. team that in 2022 will compete in Qatar for international soccer’s top prize — the World Cup. That roster includes Altidore, third among Americans in career international goals scored, and Christian Pulisic, a rising star and perhaps the face of the revamped roster.
Players, and plenty of American fans, hope this team will fare better than its predecessor, whose loss to Trinidad and Tobago in 2017 kept the American men out of World Cup competition last year.
The game we saw 10 days ago was memorable for a couple reasons beyond the victory, which put the U.S. team in the knockout round.
First, it was great for Maggie and me to share such an evening with our sons and daughters-in-law. Second, after watching on television as Americans at the Olympics and other international sporting events chanted “USA! USA!,” it was an honor and a privilege — and a thrill — to be yelling it during the game with Americans from varied political preferences united by the team in red, white and blue.
The U.S. men’s team’s subsequent 3-1 victory over Jamaica Thursday night in Nashville earned America a spot in the championship game Sunday at 8 p.m. at Chicago’s Soldier Field against Mexico, which defeated Haiti in the other semifinal.
The U.S. women’s team is no afterthought in this column. It’s mentioned last only because my family and I were fortunate enough to see the men’s team play. In fact, the women’s team is vastly more accomplished than the men’s team and is now competing on a much larger stage — the Women’s World Cup.
The American women are the defending World Cup champions. Their seasoned and star-studded roster has again qualified for the championship match and in France on Sunday at 10 a.m. will take on the Netherlands for the title.
USA! USA! USA!
Braun retired in 2017 as the Mercury’s editorial page editor.