New York beats to its own drum. That much is clear on the eve of the week before the World Cup is supposed to kick off in Sao Paolo. The chant of “LET’S GO, RANGERS,” rings out from every bar in the East Village. Hockey — what a mindfuck of a sport.
“2-2,” I predicted to my newly-found friend at Nevada Smith’s, after the Rangers assumed a 2-0 lead in the first period. I was somehow right; the Kings would level it in Game 1 and go on to win it in overtime. Blame it on the rule changes made after the 2004-05 lockout, but hockey’s become a sport predictable in its chaos. While I don’t have a horse in this particular race, I’m pining for a Rangers loss; Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals went through another miserable, trophyless, this-time-playoff-less season and so, like a Tottenham fan, I have nothing to resort to except schadenfreude. No matter.
Said new friend is a Salvadoran; we crossed paths at Nevada’s, the former soccer community mecca in the East Village that, since its relocation in 2011, has transformed into more of a bro-bar than the talismanic institution for New York’s global football fan base that it was previously known as. And so the girls and boys are out in full force, replete in skirts and hockey tees, prepared to make a night of it. “LET’S GO RANGERS,” the chant bursts out, and my new friend — a New Yorker since the early 80’s — looks on in disbelief when I voice my disapproval.
Jackson Heights, I’m told. In little more than a week’s time, the melting pot in Queens will transform into a cauldron. People from a plethora of ethnic backgrounds will take to their streets, courtyards and drinking establishments in support of the quadrennial unifier that we’ve all come to eagerly anticipate. Nevada’s still specializes in showing the football, of course — it would be merely another shit, overdone East Village haunt otherwise — and so a bit earlier we watch Argentina reluctantly dominate Trinidad & Tobago as I tell my acquaintance that I’d gladly accept 70 million and Angel di Maria in exchange for Luis Suarez. I’m not proud of myself, I say, but I’d do it before Florentino Perez had the chance to change his mind. This is the man who once sold Claude Makelele, after all.
The crowd at Nevada’s looks on indifferently, and I can’t blame them. I hate friendlies; how can anyone have any enthusiasm for such a thoroughly meaningless affair? It’s part of the reason I find myself scoffing at the faux-but-not-so-faux confidence that emanates from certain circles after whatever friendly the U.S. Men’s National Team has dominated that week. It’s all good to shout from the rooftops that the #USMNT has a chance to win the World Cup because they were #RayHudson magisterial against the Land of Fire — until you realize that every other decent national team has their own exhibitions to work through and look brilliant in during the lead-up to Brazil.
These are friendlies that they’re supposed to win, as Chile does this night against Northern Ireland. Arturo Vidal makes his triumphant return in the 77th minute of a 2-0 victory, but I see none of it — I’m too busy watching the hockey game and besides, I’m afraid of what I’ll find. Less than a month ago, Vidal underwent surgery on the same lateral meniscus — albeit in his right knee — that Luis Suarez recently had “repaired” in Montevideo. I’d rather not bear witness; Vidal is as much of a physical specimen as Suarez, and I dare not subject myself to the sight of seeing him rush himself back for the bloody World Cup, believe it or not.
The greatest trick that FIFA ever pulled off was getting the world to believe that the World Cup is the greatest, most transcendent and consequential event ever held. It’s why Brazil will burn this summer and why we’ll continue to enable Russia to keep doing Russia things. It’s allowed the global populace to plausibly accept, no matter how briefly, the possibility of a World Cup in the feudal state of Qatar. And it’s the reason the likes of Suarez and Vidal and Falcao put their careers on the line and rush back from knee injuries in the hope of making the plane.
And yet, there is football to be played. There’s an invitation on the table, and I tell my acquaintance that I can’ t wait to see Jackson Heights throb in the humid New York summer to the sound of patriotic fervor. I’ll still be watching my World Cup in Queens and the East Village and wherever else they show it — which, in this town, will be virtually everywhere. New York beats to its own drum; it always has and it always will.