CHICAGO—The city's abysmal winter is still making its presence known. No longer in the form of silly #PolarVortex or #Chiberia-based laments, but in the fact that Lake Michigan is still the relative temperature of an ice box. The big lake's 60-degree temps have served as a constant and pleasantly chilly reminder to any waders on the lakefront this spring and summer. While, for the non-bathing, workaday set, a more readily apparent side effect of the wretched winter has been the daily banks of morning fog—sculpted overnight by warm continental air colliding with the Lake's cold air—bulldozed into the city by a steady in-shore breeze, blanketing the city's skyscrapers like so many beer koozies hugging the still-damp, forgotten beer bottles of a party the night before.
It was this thick and chilling morning fog that cooly welcomed the early-rising soccer faithful to Grant Park this morning. The faithful, drawn to the park's grassy lawns to watch the Yanks square off with die Mannschaft on a Jumbotron set squarely in the middle of the park's band shell stage.
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Pre-kickoff, the fog's haze and some cloud cover gave a muted veneer to the red, white, and blue-clad outfits of so many young, fresh, pretty faces. Teens out of school for the summer, twenty-somethings home from college or playing hooky from internships filled up the seating areas en masse. But there was a subdued, practically muted air to all of it. Smiles planted without the earnest joy that a summertime smile deserves. Jokes met with obligatory and forced laughter. A muted apprehension as if, consciously or not, they all knew that something was afoot. A sense that this could be the last time for four years that they would be seeing their earthbound heroes compete on a stage this significant. Either that, or the entire crowd was a bit groggy from celebrating the excesses of youth the night before.
In either case, beach balls, noisemakers, multiple giant Teddy Goalsevelt-cut-outs, and several fog-causing joints cut through the pregame tension and, slowly but surely, deafening "USA! USA USA!'s" and "I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!'s" began to assault the air. As kickoff approached and as the crowd grew ever larger, one could close their eyes and ascertain—through the powers of echolocation—where fans of Germany were moving throughout the crowd. "BOOOO"s rained upon the good-natured and hamming-it-up supporters of Germany who enjoyed the ribbing and happily played the heel to USA's face.
As if on cue the sun burned the fog and clouds away as soon as the game started and the confident, easy happiness of the German fans seemed to make sense. The swarming, ball-hawking, pass-happy German offense was controlling the run of play, dominating the time of possession. The hapless US squad were buoyed only by Tim Howard's goalkeeping through the desperate early minutes of the game. The tide began to shift as the game minutes advanced into the teens and when clock had counted into the twenties, the US side was controlling the ball. Jermaine Jones, a step too slow for a juuuust missed pass, a flubbed corner kick, and then it was halftime.
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For 45 minutes the US had matched "zee Germans" on the scoreboard, if not on the field, another 45 of zero-zero play and #USMNT was stamping its passport to the knockout stage. Across Grant Park's verdant plain the fans sat down, conserving their strength and vocal cords for the second half. Here and there a meerkat-esque fan stood up amid the seated throngs, peering for an easy path to the concessions stands or porta-potties.
As play resumed, Germany made their first substitution and, damn, if it wasn't a doozy. Pulling no punches, Joachim Löw, switched out Lukas Podolski for Miroslav Klose, the murderer of hope. The informed and US-partisan in the crowd had a collective "Oh, fuck" moment and suddenly the skies were filled with fog again. A dreading fog seeped into the collective psyche and minutes later Thomas Müller drilled the difference-maker past a sprawling, helpless Tim Howard. Moments later the "Oh, fuck"-edness of the entire crowd was ratcheted up another notch with word of Ghana's equalizer against Portugal. The red, white, and blue, the pretty faces, the youth, just dumbfounded. "Not Ghana again! Not this way! Please not Ghana taking this game against Portugal!" Whatever hope the US crowd had felt during the first half, "Hey, we might pull this out," "We're holding our own against GERMANY, brah!" was squashed, crushed under the black heel of reality's boot. Replacing it was the hopelessness so familiar to the Wrigley faithful: "We're not winning anything this year." And yet, hope still roiled under even those desperate fogs of loathing.
Cristiano Ronaldo, cursed four days earlier for assisting on that blasted equalizer, was suddenly the savior of the Stars and Stripes! 2-1 for Portugal against the Black Stars and the Grant Park crowd was breathing easier. Knowing that a loss to Germany spelled nothing but advancement, unless a miraculous orgy of goals occurred for the Portugal side. A calmness, not happiness, but a content calm settled on the crowd. Shouts and pleas for a goal naturally spiked as the US continued trying to get control of the ball and to mount a scoring threat. As the clock kept counting upward, the crowd's volume seemingly plateaued until the 90th minute and Clint Dempsey's oh-so-close, "Wouldn't-that-have-been-somthin'!" of a header nearly propelled the crowd into hysterics.
Alas, it didn't happen and red, white, and blue streamers skittered across the crowds outstretched arms as extra time ended and the US lived to fight another day.
Next Tuesday, as a matter of fact.