In the pages of Generation Zero and here on the book’s companion site, we’ve spent a good deal of time and space examining exactly when, how and by whose efforts American soccer came of age. Before GZ was but a twinkle in my eye, I engaged with these important questions in an altogether different way when Dr. David Rose called my office, out of the blue, with a question:
You remember that time we watched that World Cup game together, at your apartment in Watertown?
Rose and I met our first day of college, in late August 1982, and have remained close friends ever since. And yet, he and I have watched very few soccer matches together through the years. In this case, he was surely referring to the Italian World Cup of 1990, when Rose was pursuing his PhD in biology, at Harvard, and I lived next door in Watertown. I have a good memory for such things: I would’ve sought company for a meaningful, knockout affair — Ireland against Romania, in the Round of 16? That rang a bell. Penalties were almost certainly involved, I further recalled, and said as much over the phone.
Dr. Rose didn’t seem entirely satisfied with what I took to be a pretty impressive piece of situational recall, summoned on short notice.
But what DAY was that?
His continued questioning seemed to me curiously over-specific. However, there are no conversational loose ends in the digital age, and Google did not disappoint: Ireland vs. Romania, at Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, the Irish advancing after a scoreless 120 minutes, on penalties. The date: June 25, 1990.
Right… Cool. Thanks.
Exasperated by this obtuse response, I asked why on Earth we were obliged to pin down this particular moment in soccer history with such specificity. Rose again opted for the slow reveal:
Do you remember that place where you always ordered take-out?
I surely did, and my perturbation dissipated somewhat because I proudly maintain a vast, detailed mental database of every decent cheesesteak sub I’ve ever consumed — especially those prepared in and around my home turf of Greater Boston. During my time in Watertown, being young, male and single, I would invariably order from The International, a stellar sub and pizza joint that delivered. This practice only increased during that World Cup Summer of 1990.
“Surely you remember The International, Rose.”
That’s right, he recalled, the sweet nostalgia beginning to wash over him, all these years later. The International…
“Yes, Rose. But what exactly is the point of this inquiry?”
My vexation had kicked back in — in part because I thought I could see where this discussion was going, only far too slowly. During this time of unprecedented futbol gluttony, I came to know Abdul, The International’s crack delivery guy. That June of 1990, I remember first inviting him to stay and watch the U.S. opener vs. Czechoslovakia. Thereafter, we must have taken in half a dozen matches together. By the knockout stages, the genial Abdul had become part of my bachelor family. Eventually, he stopped knocking and simply let himself into my first-floor apartment, whereupon he would share with me the greasy comestibles he’d delivered, and perhaps the odd bong hit, before settling in for a healthy chunk of that day’s featured match.
I worked a fairly nocturnal newspaper job at this time. I didn’t leave for the office until 5 p.m., a schedule that left mornings and afternoons completely open to World Cup futbol-watching, live from Italy. Mind you, this was the first Mundial to be so thoroughly televised in the U.S., as it was the first one we’d qualified for since the Truman Administration. That day of the Romania-Ireland match, Dr. Rose arrived early and I jumped in the shower. While Rose was doing something in the kitchen, apparently, Abdul let himself in, put the food down on the coffee table, did a bingo, and settled into one of my unsightly but comfortable recliners.
Rose hid in the kitchen. A little freaked out, apparently — that is, until I emerged spic and span. Yet this had not been the point of his drawn-out inquiry.
I ordered a cheeseburger sub that day.
That was the last time I ate meat.
And so, on a purely anecdotal level, it can be argued that American soccer came of age at about the same time Dave Rose went vegetarian.