The Goal Felt 'Round the States: Reaction Videos as Sites of National Unity

Curator's Note

 “Who says Americans aren’t soccer fans?”  Variations on this question appeared in blog posts, twitter feeds, and news articles following Landon Donovan’s game-winning stoppage time goal against Algeria, most linking to this video.  The American coverage of the 2010 World Cup seemed persistently aware of the narratives that had plagued American soccer in the past: that Americans didn’t watch and didn’t care about soccer, that there was little hope of American victory, and that soccer was a boring sport with little spectacle and little appeal to the American viewer.  But the goal by Donovan defied most of those narratives, however briefly, and newsfeeds, cameras, and webcams across the country and world captured the reaction of American viewers.  American soccer fans appeared visible, vocal, and united through the shared disappointment-turned-euphoria of watching Clint Dempsey’s blocked shot quickly followed by Donovan’s goal on the rebound.  News organizations in the following days posted multiple user-uploaded youtube video reactions and one user’s compilation of all the videos, featured here.

The compilation highlights the unity of the experience, with almost every video featuring the same drastic emotional shift.  The save against Dempsey elicits groans of disappointment and the same gesture of halted raised arms, and the immediate goal causes screaming, jumping, hugging, and eventually chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”  The video stitches together the same reaction experienced simultaneously by Americans across the United States, in pubs and bars, cities and homes, and among crowds from one to hundreds.  The video links nationality with unity through that affective moment of shared “live” experience, and it extends the moment of “liveness” by its perpetuation through online media.  For days after the goal, the video circulated--even to Donovan himself--and viewers could experience the fleeting moment of national unity again.  It presents a moment of utopian representation of America that reactivates the moment of experience through its viewing.  Though the representation of such unity is not total--notably, many of those viewing the game live had to be economically comfortable enough to take off from work on a weekday morning, and most are white men--it activates one of the myths of American culture: that there is a universal American experience.  But before this year's World Cup, few would have guessed it would be activated through soccer.


As a die-hard British born football (not soccer) fan I am unsurprised to see the same reception from American audiences to the great game as here in the UK and across the globe. Fans act this way every week at our great arenas and even on the local turf. The artistry and sport of football surpasses the cinematic spectacle as truly great drama. There's no first act 'set up' and therfore no prescribed climax - you live the moment. The moment can be a miscued shot, a tackle, a great strike or a stunning pass. The perception abroad that Americans want only glory and goals (to back the winners) is not dissimilar to any true supporter of the game. The huge financial investment in the premiership here currently dictates that we expect wins even when we do not deserve to get them. As a Spurs fan and also an England supporter frankly one becomes enurred to losing - its losing badly we cannot accept. My team is actually doing very very well right now.

The other misconception is that the American viewer has no attention span and cannot respect a sport that after an hour and a half ends in a nil nil draw. The US culture cannot be so evasive on personality to inflict such an anti-human response. I do not accept that. The actual reason that the US labours sadly behind the rest of the world - where a World Cup really means the world (unlike the World Series) is held within its imposed rules via the history and the establishment of your most singular (popular) of commercial sports. Its worth considering the political economy of American football and the horrendous strategies of the US advertising lobbies in shaping it. The ruling sports body of the time were actually culpible in pimping to the commercials industry and larger corporate sector. Allowing the redesign of a sporting contest which could be stopped frequently; interrupted constantly and offered to its audience in bite sized pieces. To cutaway to a commercial (advert) from a football match even when if is a dead ball (throw-in or free kick) is to return to find a goal has been scored.. The main reason why this the greatest of sports has never been and is unlikely to ever be won by a north American national team.

It is not novel to see such intense reactions (males and females of all ages) to a football match but from the USA it is very welcome all the same. Clearly decades of imposed 'advertising think' can actually be undone, passion and pride unleashed and the US sport goers attention span widened.. By just allowing viewers to watch a free flowing match without the incessant insistent need at every juncture to have to sell us something..

Come on you Spurs!!

 Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Sean.  I agree that the idea of these strong reactions being new are misconceptions, but I think there is something novel in the representation of American soccer (I'm using the term 'soccer' instead of 'football' to locate it in US culture) fans.  The misconceptions you identify are persistent narratives, and I argue that the video serves to undermine those very misconceptions and narratives, however briefly.  

Thanks for this post, Charlotte.  The reactions to the goal on this video are quite similar to those of the group of U.S. students with whom I was watching the match in their house in Cape Town.  What was striking to me, too, was the reaction of those watching in the house who were less enthusiastic about the U.S. Men's National Team, even if they weren't exactly rooting for Algeria.  The quick jump from excitement around the goal to chanting "U.S.A.!" made a number of people quite uncomfortable.  So it raises the question, for me, of the flip sides of what you're observing, particularly in contexts outside of the United States (such as the Durban video and, especially, the one from Lyon) as well as multiple perspectives from within the U.S.

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