The World Cup and livin' the dream

Fans react to a missed scoring opportunity for Team USA while watching the World Cup match against Belgium at Commerce Square. Some were longtime soccer fans; others were newcomers. And still others just like a party. (Matthew Hall/Staff Photographer)

The United States won't play another game in the World Cup 32-team finals (assuming they even qualify, which always has its hairy moments) until 2018, in Russia no less.In other words, the second year of the Ted Cruz Administration, when we'll all be commuting to work in flying cars...not to mention the human sacrifice and the dogs and cats, living together.

Sad that they're out in 2014? You bet. I checked out the U.S. national team for the first time way back in 1990 when they qualified for their first tournament of the modern era, in Italy. I should have been repulsed (as they were really, really terrible) but was intrigued enough to come back in 1994, when the finals were held here in America, and I've been hooked. By 2002, I was setting a tiny alarm clock for 2:30 a.m. to make sure I watched all the action from Japan in the dead of night.

As a fan, I had two dreams. One was that, in my lifetime, the United States the World Cup! Kind of like a young boy or girl dreaming that some day he or she will become president, except that some boy or girl somewhere actually will become president, while the U.S. may never win the greatest trophy in global sports, not competing against nations like Brazil or Germany where babies emerge from the womb in cleats looking to take their first corner kick.

The other dream seemed more attainable. I've written about this before so I won't go long on the topic again, but I looked with envy at how everywhere else on the planet, time seemed to stand still during that nation's moment on the world stage -- the huge crowds in Mexican zocolos and cobblestone piazzas in Italy, shutting down the entire country for two anxious yet wondrous communal hours. Nothing in this county compared (The Super Bowl, where Americans gather in living rooms to eat five-layer dip and watch ads? Really?) and so I wondered, fantasized, and yes, dreamed about what such a day would actually look like in America.

These last couple of weeks were something that only happens to a typical sports fans a dozen or so times in his or her life -- even less if you're from Cleveland. I watched a dream come true, from the mobs at Chicago's Grant Park and in the streets and the "piazzas" of Philadelphia to the so many offices that came to an unproductive halt for 90-plus minutes every few days. The shared emotions -- of joy and heartbreak -- of so many people at once can't replace the thrill of victory.

But in a strange way, I found the experience every bit as exciting.

About that second dream? As much as we identify with the grittiness of the American team -- as exemplified by Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey and his broken nose -- it's very hard to win against European and Latin American nations where soccer is a core element of their DNA. On the other hand, U.S. Millennials who just watched this World Cup in record numbers are giving birth, as we speak, to kids who may be kicking a soccer ball before they can walk, just like Lionel Messi and James Rodriguez were doing a generation ago.

Someday, the United States will win the World Cup. Will it happen in my lifetime? That depends only on how long I live.

I guess I'll be seeing you at the gym!