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Sharing the secret of the World Cup

Monday was my first day back from vacation and it felt long. On the way home from work I stopped for a solitary drink at a restaurant near SouthPark.

There are two TVs above the bar at Brio Tuscan Grille, and when I walked in both showed the U.S.-Ghana World Cup match. Customers at the bar were mesmerized, and I was curious. But I needed fresh air more than I needed soccer so I went outside, occasionally sneaking back in to check the score.

I was outside when, in the match’s 86th minute, John Brooks went high to head in a goal and give the U.S. a 2-1 lead.

Customers inside cheered as if it was the Rio (de Janeiro) Tuscan Grille. The bartender stopped bartending, servers stopped serving and patrons stopped ordering. This was sheer joy. The U.S. won 2-1.

I don’t claim to know soccer. But you don’t have to be a fan of a sport to be a fan of an event.

The World Cup concept is mesmerizing. Countries that share little in terms of geography, philosophy, politics and wealth share a game.

I bet I’ve watched pieces of at least 20 matches, and will watch U.S.-Portugal Sunday at 6 p.m.

It’s fun to turn on the TV, see Croatia playing Cameroon, the Netherlands playing Australia or Greece playing Japan, think of everything you know about a country and everybody you know from a country and immediately pick a side.

Last Sunday I was at Triple C Brewery and on the TV Switzerland was playing ECU. I’m pro-Switzerland. I’ve never been there but I like Swiss Army stuff and they never invade anybody. Yet I’m also a proponent of East Carolina. So, go Pirates. Go Ecuador.

As cool as the tournament appears on TV, the flags waving and the fans chanting and the stadiums full of passion, I wonder what it’s like to be there.

“Really cool,” says Jeffrey Taylor of the Charlotte Hornets.

Taylor flew Thursday from Charlotte to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. He returned Monday on a flight from Rio to Charlotte.

Taylor grew up in Sweden, and although he didn’t play soccer, he appreciated it. He says soccer is the country’s most popular sport, bigger than hockey. Rio is only 4,700 miles from Charlotte, and he had a few days off so why not go?

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Taylor says.

About Rio he says: “There are a lot of special things about the city.”

Taylor has several friends in Sweden who are Bosnian. On Saturday he attended the Bosnia-Herzegovina match against Argentina. (Argentina would beat the World Cup first-timers 2-1). The crowd at Maracana impressed him.

“There are 70,000 people showing support for their country,” says Taylor. “The World Cup brings people together in a lot of different ways.”

The more the U.S. wins, the more we’ll come together over our team. The tournament isn’t going to turn our big three (football, basketball and baseball) into the big four. But it doesn’t need to.

Every U.S. match feels like a bonus because it’s one more thing to get excited about. And we want to get excited, right? The NBA ended too soon, and NFL training camps don’t open for a month.

And we get to be underdogs. Ghana had beaten us two straight. How often do we get to be underdogs?

I was with my sons in Mexico on the cusp of the World Cup several years ago. The waiter at the little outdoor restaurant wore a Mexican soccer jersey, and when I pointed to it, he smiled. He spoke rapid Spanish and he was so optimistic and so proud.

The rest of the world is privy to what for many of us is a great secret. For a few days, or a few weeks, we’re in on it.

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