Le Journal, 6.19.19

Watching two World Cup games at once can be exhausting. I don’t know why they do it to us. I mean, yes, I do actually know why the competition has gone to this tradition, but it didn’t make Tuesday’s mental gymnastics any more manageable.

On my office’s television, I was watching Brazil and Italy, a game whose significance came down to one player, for me. I don’t know why the Selecão had waited until the third game of this tournament to play Andressinha – I don’t know much about Brazil, in general – but with one of the most well-liked players around Portland Thorns FC camp finally in a lineup, I was in. I was in for the through balls, the dragging possession away from defenders – the tekkers. First place in France 2019’s Group C may have been on the line, but for me, Brazil’s third game of tournament was all about “Andi.” Leggo!

The exhausting part was keeping track of the other game. I had to keep it in three-inch window in the upper-right hand corner my laptop. Microscopic Australia players, indistinguishable. Flecks of Jamaican players, indistinguishable. This is what you’re doing to me, FIFA. Is Sam Kerr even Sam Kerr if she’s half a centimeter tall?

I didn’t care about that game because of Kerr, though. In a way, I didn’t care about it because of the Thorns players that were there, either. Ellie Carpenter was starting, Caitlin Foord and Hayley Raso were not, but I’ve come to think of them as a group. The Thorns’ Australians. Portland’s Matildas. The Aussies. How far will they go? My link to them wasn’t about a single person.

I’d never had reason to think out the situation before, but it’s hard to shift gears between these two worlds. For minutes at a time, I’d watch Brazil laser focused on one person. “Nice pass, Andressinha.” “Right choice!” “Get into that space, Andi!” “Oh! She’s taking corners!” When I switched back to Australia’s game, I cared about everyone. Kerr scores four times? Perfect! Portland’s Aussies are going to the next round. Lisa De Vanna – you get on the board, too. No? How about a Chloe Logarzo, then? Just the Kerr goals, huh? That’s perfectly fine. All I care about is that you’re on to the next round.

Ultimately, Brazil is, too. They beat Italy, but thanks to goal difference, they fell to third in their group. It’s one place below the Australians, though coming into the tournament, the teams carried totally different expectations. Andressinha’s side had lost nine games in a row. They didn’t even bother playing warmup games in the weeks before the Cup. They were defeated. It felt like an all-time low. This team used to be a threat going into every tournament. How had they sunk this low?

For Australia, it was the opposite. France was supposed to be their highest point, yet. They’ve never more talented, never had as much pre-tournament success, never had a country back home believing they had a true World-Cup contender representing them, which made it so compelling when, during their loss to Italy and the moments when Jamaica seemed on the verge of a tying goal, their expectations came at odds with their production.

Maybe I just hadn’t thought it out before hand, but in real time, it was a lot to process at once. Hopefully, most people didn’t bother. There was soccer on, after all. It could have just all been enjoyed for soccer’s sake. One game. Two. You didn’t have to process the implications in real time. You could have enjoyed a four-goal game from the world’s best talent. You could have taken in an upstart Italy and, even in a close loss, the quality they’ve brought to the competition. The mechanics of a major tournament can be exhausting, but between the whistles, in the moments when we can focus on what a player’s feet can do with a ball, we can always keep things simple.

Not that those ideas are always in different worlds. Just think about the next round. Australia knows they will face Norway on June 22 while Brazil awaits their fate, but with their next games, both teams will be at vertex, as will the 14 other teams who’ve reached the Knockout Round. One game. Win or go home. Your four years’ work in the balance.

It’s so simple, but in terms of a World Cup, there may be no more exhausting thought. The ends of so many roads have come.