DENVER - For 35 minutes, even the most devoted soccer fans were struggling to remain awake during a Manchester United-AS Roma exhibition.
Then Wayne Rooney delivered drama and grace and a massive dose of wow to the afternoon. As Rooney wound up to launch a shot from 27 yards, he appeared to have no chance. He was surrounded by Roma defenders. He had no angle.
Rooney's shot took a winding, unlikely path to the back of the net. His shot somehow flew through the swarm of defenders and past the outstretched hands and arms of goalkeeper Lukasz Korupski.
Boom. Everything changed in an instant. A sleepy afternoon became supercharged.
This was a glimpse of soccer at its best. Yes, I know the game can be boring, largely because I've heard this charge from a few dozen soccer agnostics who read The Gazette.
But soccer, known as futbol in most of our world, also can be magical. Rooney's shot proves this truth.
The shot propelled Manchester United toward a 3-2 win in the International Champions Cup over AS Roma on an afternoon that offered a glimpse of soccer's possible future in the United States.
Despite stiff ticket prices, 54,117 fans gathered for a soccer party at Mile High. About 70 percent of those fans were wearing Man U red.
Americans will support, in huge numbers, a future pro soccer league that delivers the finest players in the world. Americans now support, in healthy numbers, Major League Soccer, a league that delivers (mostly) second-tier players.
Celebrity sells. This is true in movies. This is true in sports.
When LeBron James visits downtown Denver next winter, Pepsi Center will be jammed, and nearly all of those in attendance will have only the vaguest idea of the names of LeBron's teammates. The masses will throng to see basketball's No. 1 celebrity.
For American soccer freaks, and there are millions lurking out there, Rooney is a celebrity. He's the main reason why thousands paid good money to watch a glorified exhibition.
Rooney ranks right behind the Queen in England as a celebrity with one crucial difference. The Queen is admired for her modesty and dignity. No one ever has accused Rooney of being modest or dignified.
His injured left foot transfixed the nation prior to the 2006 World Cup. Rumors of his extramarital adventures appalled his fans and foes. He's whiny and impulsive and irritating.
Along with being supremely talented.
Only a handful of players in the world could have scored from the wild angle Rooney chose Saturday. He's nervy and brash and fast and brainy.
But Rooney never made peace with former Man U coach David Moyes, who was fired after one disastrous season. As new coach Louis van Gaal seeks to place Man U back at the top of the English Premier League, his most challenging task is to find a way to both liberate and tame Rooney.
Van Gaal declined to celebrate Rooney's dazzling shot.
"It is not about one player," van Gaal said, his face dour. "It is about the team."
But then van Gaal thought about the pass Rooney lofted to teammate Juan Mata three minutes after the brilliant goal. On the pass, Rooney showed his touch and vision and generosity. Mata's goal gave Man U a 2-0 lead.
The pass, van Gaal said, was "fantastic."
Van Gaal was smiling as he thought back to the brilliant assist. This is a typical response to Rooney.
He's filled with faults. He still produces happiness.