On Sunday, July 17, I found myself doing something I have rarely done throughout my lifetime.
I was cheering for the U.S.A in a major sporting event.
Before you go judging me, though I was born a U.S. citizen, having spent the first 18 years of my life overseas I’ve never felt particularly American.
Somehow that changed during the Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan.
My track record of cheering against the U.S. is quite extensive — cheering for Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 1994 men’s World Cup, wearing my lucky red socks to urge on the “Black Magic” yacht of Team New Zealand in the 1995 America’s Cup and backing Team Japan in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.
In the early rounds of this year’s Women’s World Cup I spent my emotional energy backing my birth country, Australia, but also was hoping for victories for the teams representing other countries where I have lived — New Zealand, England, Japan and yes, the U.S.
New Zealand was the only one of those teams to fail to make the quarterfinals, leaving me in a pretty good situation with four teams to support in the final eight (and luckily none of them were playing each other).
Early on July 7 my hopes of seeing Australia advance were crushed by Sweden, but mere hours later something happened that flipped a switch inside of me.
Trailing 2-1 late in extra time against Brazil, for all intents and purposes the U.S. was on its way out of the World Cup.
Then came what will likely be among the most time-honored plays in American sports history.
Megan Rapinoe took the ball down the left wing, launched a cross from an immense distance and Abby Wambach was there to smash the ball into the net with her head.
I almost started crying.
Actually, I won’t even bother trying to put on a tough exterior for this one — I did start crying.
The highlight was played countless times throughout the rest of the World Cup, and tears started welling in my eyes during every replay as well.
I’ve cried many times while watching sports before (both tears of joy and agony), but usually my tears were reserved for an Australian national team or my favorite Australian Rules football team.
I guess I technically wasn’t jumping on any bandwagon with my life-long U.S. citizenship, but from then on my hopes were with Team U.S.A to go all the way and win its third World Cup.
I sat on the edge of my seat during the semifinal against France, where Wambach again came through with the tie-breaking goal, and later cheered on Japan in a brilliant win against Sweden.
Though the final may have consisted of a slight conflict on interest on my part — having spent all four years of high school in Japan I have a lot of strong feelings for the country — I watched the final as a full-fledged supporter of the U.S., cheering when they scored and screaming inappropriate words at my TV when the ball failed to go in during numerous close misses.
Japan’s story in the wake of the devastating March earthquake and tsunami indeed made Japan a feel-good victor, but like everyone else cheering for the U.S. the result certainly felt nothing short of pure agony for me at the time.
Having grown up in the soccer world and watched as much World Cup action as I could from 1998 on, I have plenty of great World Cup watching memories, but it will take a near miracle to supplant those three seconds it took for the ball to travel from Rapinoe’s foot to Wambach’s head to the back of the net from the top of the list.