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Ghana's Mohammed Rabiu and United States' Kyle Beckerman struggle to head the ball on Monday.

Ole, ole ole ole

I know what this is. It's 'Murica gettin' with the program, right?

Six o'clock coming up fast on a certain Monday evening, and it's standing room only here in the back room at JK O'Donnell's. Over there is a guy dressed as Uncle Sam, cotton-batting beard and all. Over here are a couple of Clint Dempsey jerseys and a couple of Michael Bradley jerseys.

There's a Landon Donovan jersey and a couple of guys waving American flags and a woman in American flag shorts, and, over there against the wall, a man wearing a distinctive red T-shirt.

The red T-shirt has a white outline of the United States on it. The words that go with it read "Back-to-Back World War Champions."

The man wearing it is standing up now, as is everyone else. That's because, up on the wide-screen TV, they're playing the "Star-Spangled Banner" in the big stadium down in Natal, Brazil.

Every last person in the room is singing -- no, bellowing -- along.

And when's the last time you saw that at an American sporting event?

The answer is never, because this isn't an American sporting event, which makes what's going on here all the more remarkable. Once upon a time you said "World Cup," and all you got back from most of America was crickets; now the whole country, or so it seems, is into it, as vested as people are in England or Germany or Brazil or Argentina.

OK, that's probably an exaggeration. But not much of one when the network throws it back to the U.S., and there's Grant Park in Chicago virtually carpeted with singing, howling, red-white-and-blue crazies.

And, sure, the rest of the world tends to look on this with disdain and some amusement, because we are very late to this party and therefore prone to mimicry. We paint our faces and wear our scarves and sing "Ole, ole ole ole" because that's what the rest of the world does. But we don't own it because someone else -- OK, everyone else but us -- bought it first, and a long time ago besides.

Still ... it was something to behold the other night, watching an American crowd go batty over a sport we previously figured was the world's problem. We had football and baseball and basketball, and also car racing. Who needed a game where you couldn't use your hands, and nobody ever scored? Or seemingly even tried to?

The city's own, four-time World Cup veteran DaMarcus Beasley, remembers being teased for playing soccer, growing up on the south side of town. His buds regarded it as "a girls' game." Real men didn't play it.

Well, there was Beas at left back for the U.S. the other night, getting the first touch in the sequence that led to Dempsey's goal seconds into the opening match with Ghana. In theback room at O'Donnell's, people rose, howled, high-fived strangers. They howled every time Beas was on screen. They howled with frustration when Ghana finally got a ball past Tim Howard, and then howled again when John Brooks headed in the winner four minutes later.

I'll be straight here: Some of it felt a little forced to me. But then I'd been in Italy two years ago during the Euro Cup two summers ago, sitting on the Spanish Steps in Rome on the night the Azzurri played Germany in the semis. All of a sudden every car horn in Rome seemed to go off at once, and I turned to my wife.

"Italy just scored," I said.

There were no car horns going off in Fort Wayne when Brooks scored Monday night, at least that I know of. But here was a room packed with zealots going every bit as mad with joy, in the middle of a country where, 25 years ago, about the only televised soccer you could find was something called Soccer Made In Germany.

And that aired, if memory serves, on some public-access channel.

Now NBC televises the Barclay's Premier League from England every week, and crowds gather in Grant Park to watch the U.S. take on the world. It is a wonder.

"Did you ever think you'd see anything like this?" I asked a friend who was standing with me. He's a native of St. Louis, once the only soccer hotbed in America, and so had the perfect perspective.

"Absolutely not," he said.

Ain't that grand?

Ben Smith's blog.

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