Noah Davis’ recap for Grantland of last night’s USMNT (which still always makes me think of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) 2-0 victory over Mexico focused on what’s maybe the obvious thing to talk about after a game: the score. But in this case, the score wasn’t just the score, but a symbol of history, of the US team’s past with Mexico at Crew Stadium.
As Davis explained:
In February 2001, USMNT head coach Bruce Arena chose Crew Stadium as the site of the United States’s World Cup qualifying match against Mexico. It was 29 degrees at kickoff and the Stars and Stripes prevailed 2-0. Four years later, the same scoreline got the Americans into the 2006 World Cup. In 2009, Michael Bradley scored twice, and the “dos a cero” chants rained down from the pro-American crowd.
It’s interesting because it touches on something I wrote a few weeks ago about scoring being down in the Premier League: goals and the final score in soccer is not just a means and an end, but something bigger. In soccer, with its usually low-scoring games, goals seem more like valence levels in atoms than a gradual accumulation of successes and failures, as points are in basketball. There is a zero and then suddenly there’s a one, with nothing in between. That, of course, is an illusion belied by all the work that goes into scoring, but it’s what we’re left with at the end of the game, and it’s what allows a lineage of 2-0 victories to become, for lack of a better word, a “thing.”
It’s kind of cool. It’s really rare for me to remember basketball scores on the nose, instead usually relegating games into categories like low-scoring or high-scoring, as when the Timberwolves played a double-overtime game against the Thunder that ended 149-140 (and I had to look that up). Playoff series are maybe a little easier to keep track of in basketball or baseball, where I well remember the Red Sox coming back from 0-3 in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees. Season records in football have some of that, especially when it comes to the Miami Dolphins’ 14-0 1972 season.
But I like this idea of particular results in soccer having weight and significance, a sense that 2-0 is a kind of prophecy or pattern to be fulfilled or broken. The superstition of it is interesting, especially when Clint Dempsey missed a penalty kick late in the game that would have made it 3-0. US midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said after the game, “This place has a lot of ghosts. Dos a cero, you know? Clint missed that penalty, that ghost. I don’t know.”
As anyone who’s watched Ghost Hunters can tell you, there are two kinds of hauntings: intelligent and residual. Intelligent hauntings are ghosts that interact with the living world, speaking or moving in response to people. This seems — at least to me — a little far-fetched. Far more interesting are residual hauntings, which are like little tape loops imprinted on an environment. Maybe a soldier walked the same watch day in and day out for years, or maybe some event had a particularly strong effect on someone. Either way, their ghost is left to play out those few moments again and again in that space.
It might sound a little sad, but it’s also a little heartening to think of soccer — and sports in general — as having a similarly hefty emotional impact, of establishing rituals and patterns that persist in places like Crew Stadium and through a team even as its roster changes. Superstition, fate, destiny: these things can’t be explained away with logic any more easily than that creepy feeling you get at the bottom of the basement stairs when you flick off the light. All these things have power because we’re human and we believe. That seems like as good of a reason for our love of sports as anything.
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