My first day of work at a new job in a new city, Albany, N.Y., began smoothly. I cover politics at a newspaper in upstate New York, and before I got comfortable at my desk on that first day, I went to my first press conference. The State Police Benevolent Association had endorsed the Republican candidate for Attorney General.
I had jitters about impressing my boss, my housing arrangements and being away from my friends. But what I worried about most was where I would watch the U.S. play Ghana at 6 p.m. ET on June 16.
At home in New York City, I knew where to go for these games and I could assemble an entourage of friends. In Albany, this comfort disappeared like a first half lead on a bad day.
In 2010, I was home and recall not only Landon Donovan's heroics but the madness in the streets of midtown Manhattan after his shot whizzed past Algeria. That month, my friend Xander and I had camped on his couch with Newcastle Ale and guacamole. Our friends flooded the couch with us and took in those memories. We bought those stupid vuvuzela things that were so in vogue, and we brought them into the streets after each game. In the weeks before my move upstate, I recalled how fun it was to be in New York City during the last World Cup. The moments from 2010 that stand out most are the times spent with complete strangers. Soccer fever swept out of the Hudson River like the tidal waves that do not exist from the waterway.
I felt disappointed not to be in New York City.
Eventually, I found one bar in Albany that made a list of 233 Places to Watch the World Cup on Soccer America, Wolf's Biergarten. Keep in mind a high school parking lot in Connecticut and the Hooters of Tuscaloosa make this list as well. Even as my bad luck dictated that my first day of work fell on the most important soccer moment for me of the past four years, I took solace knowing that I had a place to watch the game.
It was the last week of the legislative session and I had parachuted in during a moment of action. The work felt good, and as 5 p.m. rolled around, I left the Capitol, and quickly sped over to the bar the team's official fan club ordained as the Capital Region's blessed location to watch the game. Upon arrival I discovered a line around the block and that Clint Dempsey -- my favorite player on the squad -- had scored an early goal. Do I wait in line and miss more of the game?
As I scouted the tent at Wolf's Biergarten, I observed a scene not unlike a college bar on a Friday night, which is fine if you’re with friends. But I was there alone, here to watch my U.S. team beat Ghana. That crowd, the prices and the line, which wasn’t moving, led me to decisive action. About 20 minutes had passed in the match and I needed to find a watering hole to sit and watch my team. I did not care what the crowd was like. I just needed to watch.
I returned to a spot near my new apartment, Lionheart Pub, and found it empty with a $3 happy hour draft special. This suited me fine even if the guy next to me wore those gaudy American Flag pants you see at Walmart. We started talking and he was nice, but he knew nothing about soccer. When I began to yell at the screen as Ghana dominated possession, he looked confused. I explained the offside rule maybe two or three times. You might call this the theme of my time there. With each new wrinkle to the game -- rules that seemed obvious to me after watching this sport for so long— my friend turned to his newfound soccer expert -- me -- for context.
He spoke of his distaste for the beautiful game. The last match he watched before this one was four years ago -- the last World Cup. I watched every qualifier and friendly the U.S. had played, and initially, I felt frustrated. It seemed so demeaning sharing this holy moment with such uneducated fans. The small crowd couldn't care less about tactics or Matt Besler's brilliant play out of the back. Whenever the team passed the ball backward too much, a collective groan went up from the bar, which at this point was pretty much empty. The strategy and brilliance of knocking the ball around, moving the Ghanaians side-to-side, lulling these fine-tuned Black Stars to sleep and then striking forward with a through ball; these fellow bar-mates of mine couldn't understand. I groaned along with them, but only because America couldn't execute the beautiful game as I wished.
This new friend in his patriotic shorts finally asked me why such a devout fan was watching this game here. I explained my new circumstances and he opened up. Albany had long been his hometown, and as talk turned from the screen to my new surroundings, he became a Time Out Albany of sorts. He peppered me with recommendations of where to eat and drink. He let me know that Shaggy and Bootsy Collins were playing at the Plaza on Wednesday. He even took my number down and committed to showing me around. This never occurred, but in this strange new town, I was so grateful to be watching the game while interacting with another human, I happily obliged his queries on extra time and the dynamics of group play, among other confusions. Unlike some of the other people in the bar who vocalized their contempt a la Ann Coulter for this global fascination, my new friend at least feigned interest in learning the basics of a sport I love so much. Along the way, I gained some semblance of comfort on my first full day in a new city.
This excited me and so did the final score line.
Despite America's subpar play and my distance from home, I had made friends, witnessed heroics from John Brooks -- the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln -- and found the spot I'd go for America's game against Portugal.