/World Cup soccer and Team USA provide a not-so-normal Tuesday afternoon in Jackson

World Cup soccer and Team USA provide a not-so-normal Tuesday afternoon in Jackson

My brother and I were able to find air conditioning and a cold beer at a Buffalo Wild Wings on Lakeland Drive, Flowood. It was almost 2 p.m. It was jam-packed in the parking lot. The scene was replicated in taverns and sports bars throughout the region. The air conditioning inside was amazing, as was the festive atmosphere. All around, red, white and blue were everywhere. All ages waved American flags. Some donned Team USA jerseys. Only three of the 200 TVs were set to World Cup Soccer. Others watched Super Bowl replays. We sat down at a table in the back. A large, red Mississippi Soccer Association banner was displayed on the wall near one of the 60″ TVs. There were four to five adults surrounded by children, and everyone was focused on the televisions and the World Cup soccer match between England and the U.S. across The Pond in Lyon. They were, and I mean it, INTO IT. There was concern early on because Megan Rapinoe (the U.S.’s star player), was not there. She is the one with the pink hair and outspoken views that President Trump admires. We were later told that Rapinoe had suffered a minor hamstring strain during the quarterfinal win over France. Christen Press, Rapinoe’s replacement, scored a header in the 10th minute of the game to give the Americans an unassisted 1-0 lead. This gave the patrons a reason to chant, “U-S.-A!” U-S-A! U-S-A!” I paused and asked one of the managers about normal business hours on Tuesday afternoons. Jesus Roman smiled and said, “Nothing like that.” “This is like an SEC football Saturday.” It was similar to the Super Bowl, but with more children and without divided loyalties. It is possible that someone was pulling for the British. They hid it well if so. *** I should include a disclaimer in this column. I’m not an expert on soccer. My hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi in the 1950s and 1960s didn’t have the sport. We only saw it on ABC’s Wide World of Sports once every two years. We would occasionally see the Southern Miss Latin American exchange students play on one of the intramural sports fields. A soccer ball flew by me on the sidelines once, when I was about 9-10 years old. Naturally, I tried “heading” it back towards the field. It almost knocked my out. Although I have not written much about the sport over the years, I did cover a few state championship matches and also wrote from Biloxi last year’s men’s World Cup final match, when France beat Croatia to the dismay a couple hundred Croatian-Americans who were attending the Croatian-American Cultural Center. Over the years I have slowly gotten to know the sport. I also understand what “offsides” are. I am always amazed at the speed and skill of those who play at a world-class level. Example: Rose Lavell, who is probably able to eat with her feet during Tuesday’s match, somehow dribbled the ball between the legs of a British player. She then turned around the goalkeeper and attempted to score. This amazing move is known as a “nutmeg” and I’m still learning. I find it irritating that the sport has so many players “flopping,” which is faking injuries and falls in an attempt to get called by the referees. Tuesday’s yellow card incident for England saw me join the cheers and even get a yellow card. Good for soccer and good for the referee. Kay Bouler (executive director of the Mississippi Soccer Association) was at the next table. She was able to answer a few of my questions while also asking me one: “Isn’t this just amazing?” She stated that her organization would not miss an opportunity to promote soccer at any level. When I asked her how many Mississippi children participate in MSA-sanctioned leagues and programs, she replied that it was approximately 21,000. Larissa Wilks, a nursing student, sat at another table, and worked on her schoolwork while looking up at the TV whenever the crowd responded. She put down her notebook near the end of the match and focused on the match. Ah, the match. England tied the score at 1-1. The U.S. took the lead at 2-1. England seemed to be tied at 2-2, but after replays, the goals were ruled out for offsides. Before the replay, my brother called it. He yelled, “She was offsides!” She was indeed. Bobby, my brother: fishing, hunting, and now soccer expert. In the 84th minute, England was lined up for a penalty kick. U.S. goalie Alyssa Neher, seizing the opportunity, dived to her right to stop the ball and preserve the 2-1 lead. Chants of U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” began again. The chants returned when the game was over and the U.S. players ran to Naeher, their hero, on the field. It was fantastic theatre and great entertainment for a mid-Mississippi Tuesday afternoon.