By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When Portugal scored the equalizing goal with just 15 seconds remaining in added time Sunday, grasping a tie out of the jaws of a Team USA victory in the second round of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, local soccer fans could try to put a positive spin on everything.
Well, at least it wasn’t a loss.
And before the game began, every single Team USA fan would have taken a draw against Portugal, one of the favorites in the tournament and featuring the world’s best player in Cristiano Ronaldo. Before the game, odds makers had Portugal as a two-goal favorite to win the match.
And the 2-2 tie wasn’t exactly the worst outcome the Red, White and Blue could have received. Team USA now needs at least a draw against world power Germany Thursday morning to advance to the field of 16.
However, it was the way the game ended that caused such pain and anguish.
“It was a stinger,” said Christian Garing, a former Kearny High School soccer standout who now runs the Kearny Red Bull Army, a group that attends all New York Red Bulls home games at Red Bull Arena in Harrison.
But Garing had mixed emotions Monday morning.
“I went to bed feeling that we lost,” Garing said. “I woke up a little more positive thinking we can move on. If someone would have told me before the World Cup started that we’d have a win over Ghana and a tie with Portugal, I would have signed that contract right away.”
Regardless of the outcome, the sport of soccer has received a major boost by the attention the World Cup has received.
Just a look at the restaurants and bars in the area is proof that World Cup fever has definitely caught on.
At the popular Kearny Scots- American Club, the joint was rocking with soccer fans both for the win over Ghana last Monday and the draw with Portugal Sunday.
“I think with each passing World Cup, we get to see a bigger following in the United States,” Garing said. “The sport is getting a more positive spin from the media. You can tell by the patriotism that is being portrayed on television that things are turning around. The sport has definitely grown.”
Garing is also impressed with the way Team USA has played in its first two games. People like Clint Dempsey, who has scored a goal in each game, have become household names. Graham Zusi has collected an assist in each game. Both Dempsey and Zusi are Major League Soccer players.
Dempsey scored his first goal just seconds into the game against Ghana and later suffered a severely broken nose, but was able to play against Portugal on Sunday and scored once again, becoming a nation al hero overnight.
Jermaine Jones gave the United States some hope with his brilliant strike from 25 yards out, tying the game in the 64th minute, before Dempsey scored from Zusi in the 80th minute, giving everyone anticipation of the upset win that just wasn’t meant to be.
“I was in Kearny and Harrison before the World Cup and the talk was that the U.S. wasn’t going to score a single goal in the World Cup,” Garing said. “People were saying that we were not going to get through (to the field of 16). That conversation has sure changed. Now, we think we can win and move on.”
Before the World Cup began, United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was quoted as saying that the United States “had no chance whatsoever of winning the World Cup” this year.
Those comments hit a few sour notes locally.
“I can see where he’s coming from,” said former Kearny High soccer standout Miguel Abreu, watching the games with his entire family, including 2-year-old son Dylan. “But as a player, you never want to hear that. It’s an uphill battle to begin with. You never want to hear your coach saying that.”
“I think he was trying to get the best of his team,” said Kearny resident Ed Coleman. “That’s the German mentality (Klinsmann is a former German soccer standout and great coach). They try to underplay everything and hope that the team overachieves. I think the USA fans are more upset with those words than the players. The players know what they’re up against.”
“I hope we get him to eat his words,” said fellow Kearny resident Lennon Gomez, a former Kearny High athlete. “I don’t understand how you say those things before the tournament begins.”
Coleman was certain that Team USA was going to do well in the World Cup.
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of fans,” Coleman said. “Our backline is young. We also have the best goaltender in the world.”
Tim Howard, Team USA’s net minder, is a former Kearny resident who lived on Pleasant Place when he played for the old MetroStars.
“We’re all hyped up for this,” Coleman said. “It’s unbelievable.”
“It’s beautiful to see all the Kearny people get excited for the World Cup,” Gomez said. “The Kearny pride is showing. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Abreu was glad to be able to share it with his young son.
“It’s a long time coming,” Abreu said. “The World Cup only comes around every four years. It’s such a great experience here, especially in Kearny, with all the different nationalities in the town. We’re ready for a good USA run. The afternoon games are nice, because we can bring our families. We have second, third and even fourth generation soccer fans here. It’s great to see.”
Garing notices the way Kearny just explodes with excitement during the World Cup. However, it’s not just locally. ESPN showed viewing parties in places like Grant Park in Chicago and Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, where thousands of USA fans gathered together to show their support.
World Cup fever has encompassed the nation, but especially in our own backyard.
“I don’t know if we’re ready to win the World Cup yet,” Garing said. “We still have to earn some respect throughout the world. But we have shown we can win games.”
The United States was just 15 seconds away from winning Sunday and moving on to the final 16. Silvestre Varela’s header off the brilliant cross from Ronaldo dashed those hopes. Now, Team USA has to do it the hard way against Germany. Kearny and the surrounding communities are just hoping upon hope that World Cup fever will include the United States national team through the weekend.