The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Girl with birthday cake, early 1960s

Wednesday, with the future at stake (as always, as ever), there was something claustrophobic about the final games of the group stage. The ether was jammed with possibility. Algeria’s nascent glory after the sixth-minute strike … that didn’t happen here, but its universe and ours shouldered past each other; America’s rippling, riotous three-goal first half (full of clever touches) didn’t happen here either, although it wasn’t much farther away. These millions upon millions of others, lingering in nearby space-time, echoes from the past, the future, all bumping for a place at the table, their jostling rippling out until the atmosphere seemed taut with a subsonic humming of futures.

I’ve read for more than a quarter-century about the sensuality of football’s slow buildup, the orgasmic howling of the crowd, but it wasn’t until about noon Eastern time yesterday that I experienced it in truth. And I’m guessing I’m not alone. Americans are not an empirical bunch. When W talked about leading “from my gut,” he was met not with sneers of derision but general approbation. It’s almost too perfect—any movie script that ended the group stages this way would demand a rewrite. “This should be the final; Donovan’s tears should be while holding the Jules Rimet Trophy; how about a bit about a dog” are the producer notes.

In terms of defining a narrative for this team, well, that work is done. This is the team we’re sending out there to represent us to the world in the world’s game: hard-working, gritty, passionate, just a bit pretty, and maybe still a bit naïve. And when events turn against them, ironically, it’s Churchill who gives the inspiration: “Never, never, never, never give up.”

In a nation where one working person out of nine isn’t, a nation where we can’t shake the feeling our wealth is an elaborate con, there is something pure and redemptive about the simple refusal to surrender. We have seen the plunder of a generation siphoned off by crooks and charlatans, seen our democratic institutions trivialized, seen our neighbors turned against each other by the deafening blare of propaganda; how refreshing, then, to see these men face misfortune and refuse to stagger under the weight of it. Landon Donovan, our nation turns its hopeful eyes to you.

Sean Spence lives in Flint, Michigan, with his wife Sarah, three step-daughters, and four cats.


The Best of All Possible Worlds

by Sean Spence · June 24, 2010

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