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Playing hooky for soccer as the U.S. wins with a loss

By David Gutman, Staff writer
CHIP ELLIS | Gazette
Chase Whitlock, Ezra Matthews, Eric Stalnaker and Justin Eads (left to right), of the American Outlaws soccer fan club, cheer on the U.S. team at Charleston’s Embassy Suites as the Americans play Germany Thursday afternoon. The U.S. team lost, but won a tiebreaker to advance to the round of 16 in the World Cup.
CHIP ELLIS | Gazette Justin Stowers is pumped Thursday afternoon for the second half of the USA-Germany World Cup match at Charleston’s Embassy Suites.

Never has a loss felt so good.

That’s the feeling among American soccer fans nationwide, and certainly among the 150 or so who gathered Thursday afternoon at the Athletic Club Bar and Grill at the Embassy Suites in Charleston to watch the U.S. Men’s National Team advance to the next round of the World Cup, despite a 1-0 loss to Germany.

The U.S. team had left itself in good position heading into the last games of the opening round on Thursday, so the narrow defeat, coupled with Portugal’s 2-1 defeat of Ghana, was enough to send the United States on in the tournament.

The American Outlaws, a U.S. soccer fan club, has hosted three consecutive watch parties at the Embassy Suites for the past three U.S. games.

The bar was packed last week as John Brooks’ late header beat Ghana, the Americans’ nemesis the last two World Cups.

The Outlaws were there Sunday, when Portugal’s dagger of a goal in the 95th minute of a 90-minute match left the United States with a draw that felt like a loss.

And they were there in force, at noon on a weekday, in Charleston, West Virginia, to watch a soccer match 4,389 miles away in Recife, Brazil.

Earlier in the week, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann had written a note for fans to hand to their bosses, to excuse absences for the day.

“Please excuse ________ from work on Thursday,” it read. “I understand that his absence may reduce the productivity of your workplace, but I can assure you that it is for an important cause. The U.S. Men’s National Team has a critical World Cup game vs. Germany and we will need the full support of the nation if we are to advance to the next round.”

Not many in Charleston seemed to need the coach’s help.

“I just took a personal day,” said Justin Eads, president of the Huntington chapter of the American Outlaws.

“I am the boss,” said Doug Hartley, of the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority, when asked what he told his boss.

“I told him I’m looking for Mark Manchin’s car,” another person said. The School Building Authority leader’s reportedly stolen car was found in Boone County this week.

“I didn’t tell him anything, this is lunch for me,” said a man whose lunch hour stretched through the full two-hour game.

“I planned it in advance, I just told them I’m off,” said Randy Sims, a gemologist appraiser, who was wearing the same lucky U.S. scarf that he’s worn for games for the past 14 years.

“I’m burning vacation days,” said David Williams, of the First Bank of Charleston.

Erik Goes’ suit and tie stood out from the sea of jerseys and scarves around him.

“He is my boss,” Goes, a federal prosecutor, said at halftime, pointing to the be-suited man next to him.

Things got tight for the Americans about 10 minutes into the second half. Germany scored, to go ahead 1-0.

Two minutes later, in a game happening simultaneously, Ghana scored, tying Portugal.

At that point, a single Ghanaian goal would have sent the U.S. team home, finished with the World Cup for at least four years.

Suddenly, the three giant projection screens at the Embassy Suites showing the American match were not the only ones to watch.

Eyes twitched from the big screens to smaller TVs showing the other match.

A nervous silence settled over the room.

“Come on Jermaine, we need you honey,” a women said after a collision left Jermaine Jones, the dreadlocked American midfielder, with a bloody nose.

Jones returned, and then, after about 20 minutes, there was breathing room. But it was no thanks to the Americans. Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s second-best player, whose pinpoint cross broke American hearts in their last game, scored for Portugal.

Now Portugal was in the lead, and, with 10 minutes left, it would take two goals from Ghana or three goals from Portugal to send the U.S. team home.

The clock ticked up (it does that in soccer), eyes continued to dart between the two games. But the tension was gone.

When both games ended within a few seconds of each other, the room cheered. The U.S. lost, but lives to play another match — this one a win-or-go-home game — on Tuesday at 4 p.m. It’s another chance to hone your weekday get-out-of-work excuse.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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