Updated: July 1, 2014 at 8:42 am
For several million of us, this ride by the U.S. soccer team has delivered surprising, baffling, uplifting and, best of all, unifying thrills.
These are weird, happy times for soccer fans. For decades, our sport was considered a vile invading force from foreign shores. Sort of like the metric system.
And now, all of a sudden, soccer is popular, cool, a beloved conquering force. Reminds me of my childhood in the suburbs of Seattle, where dad discovered an Italian restaurant that served this newfangled creation known as pizza.
Not everyone is thrilled by soccer's rise. Ann Coulter, a conservative performance artist, wrote a column last week that linked soccer's rise to our nation's moral decline. I realize Coulter makes her living by infuriating those who do not share her views. And, yes, she can be funny.
I also realize she was wildly inaccurate and needlessly insulting in the final passage of her column. True Americans, Coulter argued, decline to watch soccer. You could spend years searching for humor in her words. You would fail in your quest.
"I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time," Coulter wrote.
On Tuesday at 2, I'll be watching the U.S.-Belgium World Cup game with several dozen women, men, girls and boys whose great-grandfathers were born in The Land of the Free.
I'll also be watching in a big room joined by those whose great-grandfathers were born in Belgium and Mexico and Brazil and China and who knows where else. This blending is at the heart of the wonder of our country. We gather together, united, to celebrate what's best in our world, and what's best includes a sport most of our planet's residents call futbol.
Soccer fetish? Oh, Ann, you're stuck in the 20th century.
A few thoughts and tips, including a prediction, for today's game:
One - Watch out for Fellaini
Belgium midfielder Maroune Fellaini boasts the frame required to play middle linebacker in the NFL. Don't laugh. If Fellaini started eating and training, he could start for the Raiders in 2015 and might even be ready to play for a real NFL team by 2016.
Fellaini is 6-foot-4 - 6-11 if you include his high-rise hair - and plays with distinctive fury. He once drew a three-game suspension for head-butting an opponent, and his elbows tend to wander into the faces of opposing stars.
He's extremely entertaining, deceptively graceful and skilled. But, remember, he's dangerous. American attackers should consider wearing helmets.
Two - Admire Dempsey's courage
Clint Dempsey has emerged as an American hero during this run to the World Cup's round of 16. He trudges across the field with the icy, determined, I'm-a-bad-man look of a gunslinger in an old Western movie. All this, while breathing haltingly through a fractured nose. No. 8 is seriously tough, right up there with John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Jennifer Lawrence.
He's an inspiring figure, even if he resembles a zombie.
I predict he will score against Belgium.
Three - Don't talk about Donovan
When the World Cup began, Landon Donovan ranked as the No. 1 conversation topic among American fans. In my informal poll, Donovan supporters outranked supporters for American coach Jurgen Klinsmann by three to one.
That was then.
Now, if you keep wondering why Klinsmann banished Donovan from his team, attacks will follow. Trust me on this one. I believe Donovan would have served as a valuable sub for this American team, which lacks scoring punch.
This point of view has led to accusations that I labor against the American cause. Give comfort to the enemy. That kind of thing. "Get on the ship!" I've been commanded by outraged U.S. supporters.
What a difference a win, tie and loss makes. Klinsmann, born in Germany, is more beloved in America than Donovan, born in California.
Four - Prediction
The Americans seized our hearts by playing with unabashed passion. Yes, they've been blessed with a big dose of luck, but the Americans deserve to remain alive in the world's ultimate sports tournament. They survived because of their unquenchable desire.
But the good times end Tuesday in Brazil, where talent will trump effort.
Belgium 2, United States 1.