Column: Pitch perfect

Eastchester residents Brian Kelly, right, and Silvio DiSalvatore show their spirit at Mickey Spillane’s Pub for the U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup opener on June 16. Photo/Mike Smith

Eastchester residents Brian Kelly, right, and Silvio DiSalvatore show their spirit at Mickey Spillane’s Pub for the U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup opener on June 16. Photo/Mike Smith

If there’s one thing I learned on Monday evening, it’s I might never get too old to bust out a hearty “USA!” chant.

On June 16, in the 86th minute of the USMNT’s World Cup opener in Brazil, 21-year-old American midfielder Jonathan Brooks broke a 1-1 tie with Ghana, finding the net on a splendid header that all but secured the U.S. a Group D win.

If you went on the internet on Tuesday morning, you’ve undoubtedly seen videos of U.S. soccer fans react to that goal.

Let me assure you, the scene at Mickey Spillane’s in Eastchester was no less chaotic.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been watching a lot of sports alone, in my living room. This was—in large part—by design.

When the Rangers were in the Eastern Conference semifinals, trailing the Penguins three games to one, I opted to watch what I assumed would be their elimination by myself.

Only they won. And they kept winning.

My friends, a superstitious lot, refused to watch any subsequent games with me, believing that, in some way, my self-imposed exile was translating into wins for the blueshirts.

Alas, it wasn’t to be, as the Rangers eventually fell in the finals. But on the bright side, at least I was finally able to watch sports with other human beings again. So I headed over to Mickey’s for the World Cup.

What struck me first about the crowd packing the local pub to the gills was that it was infinitely more diverse than most groups of sports fans. You had the casual,
patriotic fan, eager to cheer on his country and participate in the World Cup drink specials. You also had the soccer snobs—one of whom was sitting next to me—who demonstrated their knowledge of the game by derisively scoffing at everyone else’s lack of understanding of the beautiful game and by admonishing the players on the pitch by using their first names.

Given Bradley’s poor play in the midfield, suffice it to say I heard a lot of, “You have to control the ball, Michael.”

And then there were the kids; scores of them, wearing their youth soccer jerseys. Most of them were probably taking in their first World Cup—or at least their first one since kindergarten. All game long, even during the lulls in the action, the kids were bouncing off the walls on a pixie-stick high.

But when that goal came in the 86th minute, they were hardly alone.

The casual fans roared—spraying their beer all over the place. The soccer snob next to me, so solemn all game, broke into a frenzied dance, his limbs wildly flailing in a routine that sort of resembled the Cabbage Patch. There were handshakes, hugs and hi-fives all around. And, of course, the booming, deafening cheers of U.S.A. that probably echoed up and down Route 22.

It was a wonderful win and an even better moment for soccer. Let’s just hope we have a few more in us.

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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.