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World Cup 2010

Just Not The Right Time For U.S. Team

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

It wasn’t supposed to end like this, in an airport lounge, surrounded by people cheering for the other team, listening to play-by-play in Arabic. I actually harbored hope that I could avoid hearing the score, watch the game on tape tomorrow, savor what I hoped would be a win result for the USA.

But no way. On the plane from Johannesburg, a news ticker says it’s 1-0 Ghana. Then 1-1 on a Landon Donovan penalty. We land. I sprint to find a TV (after getting stopped by security for the decorative African butter knife which I’d mistakenly packed in my carry on; it wasn’t confiscated). Sony flat screens at every gate here in Dubai. I sit down just as extra time is beginning, joined by one guy from Boston on his way to Karachi and another guy from Boston who’s returning home. He’s wearing one of those red, white and blue floppy top hats.

And just as the sweat subsides, Asamoah Gyan corrals the bounding long ball, fends off Carlos Bocanegra and chips it over Tim Howard’s head. 2-1, Ghana. Time ticks away much more quickly than we’d like. A few chances in the first 15 minutes, a few more in the second 15. Everyone forward now, Howard heads the ball as the opposing goalkeeper punches it away. A deflected shot by Clint Dempsey. Another by Michael Bradley. Time doesn’t stop.

“Bye, bye, America,” the Arabic speaker sitting next to me says.

Scott Kennedy, the Bostonian in the USA hat — and also an American Outlaws fan club T-shirt — fills me in on the game. The U.S. didn’t have many chances. The team seemed gassed by the end of the first 90 minutes. “Oh, well,” he says, packing his Dr. Seuss hat in his bag. “I just never thought we were gong to win.”

I’m boarding now, a little sad. Part of me always has felt it’s too soon for the U.S. to do too well in the World Cup; when the U.S. gets to the semifinals or finals or hoists the Jules Rimet trophy, I want the world to truly respect its play, not call advancement a fluke of matchups. But part of me — the deeply American part — wanted to win now.

The soccer fan in me can’t wait to get home to watch the rest of the tournament. The USA fan can’t wait for 2014.