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U.S. soccer victory unleashes the happiest fans, bar none

By Sally Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2010; D06

NEW YORK It was raining beer and broken glass in the bar. The crowd heaved the contents of their cups upward toward the ceiling in a mass involuntary celebration reflex as Landon Donovan scuffed the ball into the goal with his cleat. They had breakfasted all morning on ale and frustration, and now they unleashed a tidal surge of suds, and a head-ringing roar. Somewhere in the back, there was a crash: A light bulb in the ceiling had exploded. Someone had hit it with a flagpole -- bearing an American flag.

They had stood in line since 7 a.m. to wedge themselves into a spot at the bar for the United States' do-or-die World Cup match with Algeria. Nevada Smith's pub on Third Avenue is such a home for devout fans from all over the world that its nickname among the hard core is "The Church." It's a dark alley of a joint, with black walls and four dim, red pub lamps, undecorated save for team jerseys and national flags. The bar's motto is, "Where Football is Religion."

The Church doesn't have pews, or even seats, or any furniture to speak of, just a counter bristling with beer spigots, and wooden ledges to balance drinks on, served in plastic cups big as tubs. With 14 plasma screens and 100 live matches a week, it's renowned as the best tavern "on the planet" for viewing the game.

But on this day you could forget the whole international football fraternity thing. The bar was taken over by a different breed: an American hard core. You know, those people who call the game soccer and get sneered at as if they've used the wrong fork. There was a guy in a yarmulke, and a guy sporting a blue Mohawk. There was a guy in a "We The People" T-shirt and a guy in a Clash T-shirt. There was a tattoo artist and a summer intern in American flag pajamas having $4 Carlsburgs for brunch.

A couple of college students named Greg Baum and John Tardy wore red-white-and-blue greasepainted flags on their faces. The classrooms at St. Francis and St. John's universities, respectively, would not be graced with their presences on this morning.

"We have a lot of doctor's appointments," Baum said.

Every city in the country experienced some form of the scene Wednesday -- the offices half-empty with sick calls, the pubs full by breakfast time. They packed Lucky Bar in Dupont Circle, Summers in Arlington, the Dark Horse in Philly, the Globe Pub in Chicago, Trinity Hall in Dallas, the Living Room in Kansas City, the Mad Dog in the Fog in San Fran.

At the Church, anyone British was sent to the basement by the two burly bouncers at the door. Philip Jacobs, a real estate agent and native of Sheffield, England, sported a Wayne Rooney jersey. A chesty doorman said curtly, "Downstairs."

At halftime it looked like the Brits would be the more satisfied customers as England led Slovenia 1-0, while the U.S. fans clutched at their heads over the scoreless tie with Algeria, and cursed the officiating.

"It makes it more exciting to root for England in a pub with 200 Americans," Jacobs said coolly, grinning. "More satisfying."

Play resumed -- and went on, and on, with no score. Time and again, Jozy Altidore streaked downfield fruitlessly. Shots soared too high, or bounced off the post. "Just when will the ball go in?" an announcer asked incredulously. Minutes ticked away. Up on the screen, former president Bill Clinton chewed a thumbnail tensely. Yellow cards flew. Red blood spilled. Clint Dempsey held a hand to his split lip. And still no goals. "Not ones that count, anyway," the announcer said.

Extra time. Three minutes from elimination. There was a crescendo in the bar, feet pounding on the floor, fists on the walls, chanting. From somewhere in the middle of the crowd came a weakly, flatulent blast from a lone vuvuzela.

Then it happened -- fast. Counterattack. Donovan to Altidore, who angled the ball to Dempsey, who decked it at goalie Rais M'Bolihi. The ball rebounded off of Bolihi, and for a fraction of a second, it just sat there and seemed to swivel in the grass. Finally, something moved toward it. It was Donovan's shoe. Then he was belly-sliding in the grass.

Inside the Church, the bodies jumped up and down like pogos. The floor sounded like thunder. An American flag swung crazily and shattered the globe light in the ceiling, but nobody seemed to realize that glass was falling. The writhing mass moved toward the doors and spilled into the streets, where truck drivers honked and cab drivers held up two fingers for victory.

In the light of day, Kevin Mongiello, 23, proudly studied his bloody white T-shirt. "It's Dempsey's blood," he announced. Mongiello didn't seem to be cut, so the blood must have come from someone else hit by falling glass. "It broke right over me, but everybody kept cheering," he said. "Nobody cared."

Mongiello couldn't be sure what happened -- he thinks he blacked out when Donovan scored -- though it could have been the fact that he had a bagel and five beers for breakfast. "That counts, right?"

On the sidewalk, the blue Mohawk guy bent over and tried to catch his breath. His name was Keith Morris, and he was a firefighter, but after so much tension followed by pandemonium, he was the one who felt in need of a first responder.

"All I remember is, I jumped on a bald guy's head," he said. "Then some guy picked me up on his shoulders."

After two games without a loss yet without a victory either, the Americans were no longer stymied. They were still in the World Cup.

It was noon on a Wednesday, and an American street was filled with fans electrified by a soccer result.

Morris's heart was still pounding. "I'll be all right," he said. "I just need a few minutes."

So do the rest of us.

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