026Commentary by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb.com

The last time I had sat captivated by a soccer match, I was wrapped in a heavy corduroy jacket sipping hot chocolate in 20 degree weather on campus in Storrs, Connecticut. It was late autumn, circa 1987-1991. At the time, I was a reporter for the Manchester Herald and I remember seeing one of the paper’s photographers, Patrick, on the sidelines shooting the game along with a host of other photogs. UCONN soccer was still riding its heyday of fan support after former men’s Head Coach Joe Morrone turned the sport into a Sunday afternoon religion throughout the state. The matches drew overflow crowds and – for a brief moment – UCONN soccer nearly usurped the popularity of collegiate football in Connecticut.

It therefore came as no surprise to me that early on in 2014 FIFA World Cup competition held in Brazil, Nutmeggers showed up in large numbers at area pubs to back team USA and its improbable journey, advancing in the competition further than even their own coach had thought they would go. The exhilarating run came to an end July 1 when the U.S. was eliminated in round 16.

Though in warmer temperatures, yesterday afternoon I found myself once again captivated by a compelling soccer match described by one commentator as 120 plus minutes of pure excitement. Governor Dannel Malloy even showed up at Damon’s in Hartford to watch the bout. The U.S. lost to Belgium 2-1 with every score made in extra time. Giving his all for team USA, Tim Howard made sixteen saves reportedly the most by a goalkeeper in World Cup competition since 1966.

The headline about the outcome in the New York Times reads: Wild Ride by U.S. Comes to End, but Soccer is the Winner.

Below is the lead paragraph in the NYT article written by Sam Borden – (no point trying to improve on perfection).

“It felt as if Tim Howard would never go down. As if the US would never go down, standing there, taking shots like an undersize fighter clinging desperately to a puncher’s chance. Howard saved with his hands. His legs, his knees. At one point Howard even had a shot bounce off the crest over his heart.”

Here’s to team USA and a gallant effort!