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Ben Smith

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United States
vs. Ghana
Result: 2-1 win
vs. Portugal
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Manaus
TV: ESPN
vs. Germany
When: Noon June 26
Where: Recife
TV: ESPN
Associated Press
Fans Josh Salinas, left, and Joe Wasserkrug react in Miami after the U.S. team scored its second goal against Ghana on Monday.

Better late than never to party

Associated Press
Fort Wayne native DaMarcus Beasley runs with the ball during the match against Ghana in Brazil on Monday night.

I know what this is. It’s ’Murica gettin’ with the program, right?

Six o’clock coming up fast on a certain Monday evening, and it’s standing room only in the back room at JK O’Donnell’s. Over there is a guy dressed as Uncle Sam, cotton-batting beard and all. Over here are a couple of Clint Dempsey jerseys and a couple of Michael Bradley jerseys.

There’s a Landon Donovan jersey and a couple of guys waving American flags and a woman in American flag shorts, and, over there against the wall, a man wearing a distinctive red T-shirt.

The red T-shirt has a white outline of the United States on it. The words that go with it read “Back-to-Back World War Champions.”

The man wearing it is standing up now, as is everyone else. That’s because, up on the big screen, they’re playing the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Every last person in the room is singing – no, bellowing – along.

And when’s the last time you saw that at an American sporting event?

The answer is never, because this isn’t an American sporting event, which makes what’s going on here all the more remarkable. Once upon a time you said “World Cup,” and all you got back from most of America was crickets; now the whole country, or so it seems, is into it, as vested as people are in England or Germany or Brazil or Argentina.

OK, that’s probably an exaggeration. But not much of one when the network throws it back to the U.S., and there’s Grant Park in Chicago carpeted with singing, howling, red-white-and-blue crazies.

And, sure, the rest of the world tends to look on this with disdain and some amusement, because we are very late to this party and therefore prone to mimicry. But it was still something to behold the other night, watching an American crowd go batty over a sport we previously figured was the world’s problem.

The city’s own, four-time World Cup veteran DaMarcus Beasley, remembers being teased for playing soccer, growing up on the south side of town. His buds regarded it as “a girls’ game.” Real men didn’t play it.

Well, there was Beas at left back for the U.S. the other night, getting the first touch in the sequence that led to Dempsey’s goal against Ghana. In the back room at O’Donnell’s, people rose, howled, high-fived strangers. They howled every time Beas was on screen. And they howled again when John Brooks headed in the winner in the 86th minute.

I’ll be straight here: Some of it did feel a little forced to me.

But I’d been in Italy during the Euro Cup two summers ago, sitting on the Spanish Steps in Rome the night the Azzurri played Germany in the semis. All of a sudden every car horn in Rome seemed to go off at once, and I turned to my wife.

“Italy just scored,” I said.

There were no car horns going off in Fort Wayne when Brooks scored Monday, at least that I know of. But here was a room going every bit as mad with joy, in the middle of a country where, 25 years ago, the idea that a major network (NBC) would one day air the Barclay’s Premier League from England every week would have seemed ludicrous.

“Did you ever think you’d see anything like this?” I asked a friend who was standing with me. He’s a native of St. Louis, once the only soccer hotbed in America, and so had the perfect perspective.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

Ain’t that grand?

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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