Crucitti supports US at World Cup

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 25, 2014

After USA forward Clint Dempsey scored a goal 30 seconds into the World Cup match with Ghana on June 16, he made a mad dash for the American flag in a corner of Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil.
West Rowan and West Point graduate Jon Crucitti was seated eight rows up from Dempsey and the flag — and then everyone was standing and screaming.
“We were all shocked by the suddeness of that goal,” Crucitti said. “One of my buddies threw up his arms and hit me right in the nose. Thirty seconds into the match and I’ve got a bloody nose, but we’re up 1-0. That’s all that mattered.”
As much as anyone, Team USA is “we” for Crucitti, who is about to embark on his military career.
As a high school star he played for two state-championship football teams and patrolled center field for a Rowan County American Legion baseball squad that reached the World Series in North Dakota.
At West Point, he’s played both Division I football and baseball.
Now he’s enjoying the 60-day graduation leave that comes between graduation exercises in late May — Crucitti was impressed that President Barack Obama shook every single cadet’s hand — and basic training that will start in Columbus, Ga., on July 27.
Actually, a series of training stops are waiting on Crucitti. After basic will be nine intense weeks of Ranger school, followed by three weeks of jumping out of airplanes. After that, he’ll be stationed at Fort Bragg as a platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne.
The roots for Crucitti’s World Cup experience were planted four years ago when the competition was being staged in South Africa.
“It’s funny because we missed a USA World Cup game four years ago because we’d started training at West Point,” Crucitti said. “But one of the guys said then, ‘Hey, four years from now we should just go to the World Cup.’ And you know what, it happened.”
It helped that one of Crucitti’s fellow cadets had an uncle with an apartment in Rio de Janiero. That meant the American adventurers had a place to stay.
“Rio was absolutely the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” Crucitti said. “The city, the beaches, the geography. It was all amazing.”
Crucitti’s education was helpful. Portugese is the language of Brazil, and Crucitti had taken three classes.
“It was my first time out of the country, but I knew enough Portugese to keep out of trouble and enough to order food and get transportation,” Crucitti said.
Crucitti is not exactly a hardcore soccer guy, but he did play the sport three years as a youngster before he devoted his athletic energy to baseball, football and basketball. He was an avid fan of the Army men’s and women’s soccer teams and supported them often.
“I’ve been at pro games in football, basketball and baseball, but I was excited to see what it was like to see the world’s best soccer players, to see how fast they are,” Crucitti said. “And everyone says if you want to watch soccer played right, you watch Brazil. Neymar can go from 0 to 60 faster than anyone in the world.”
The USA-Ghana match took place in Natal, on the coast in the northeastern part of Brazil. It’s a skyscraper-less city with little in common with Rio.
“USA soccer threw a couple of parties, and there were 5,000 Americans at each one,” Crucitti said. “We walked from a party to the stadium for the Ghana game with everyone singing the national anthem, and one of my buddies said, ‘This is the most American I’ve ever felt in my life.’ That’s the feeling we all had. When guys put on that red, white and blue, it brings a totally different dynamic. It’s a great excuse to cheer even for those people who don’t follow soccer.”
Crucitti estimated the crowd at the stadium was about 40-percent pro-American, 20-percent pro-Ghanan and 40-percent Brazilians with no obvious rooting interest.
Crucitti met the “Teddy Roosevelt guy,” who has become a celebrity super-fan and met other Americans who came to the match clad as Batman, Spider-Man, Superman and other American crime-fighting crusaders.
While the Americans chanted, the Ghana contingent made enough noise to fill the stadium.
“Mostly drums, but they had all kinds of musical instruments,” Crucitti said. “Like a high school band.”
The deciding goal in the USA’s 2-1 vicory was scored by substitute John Brooks on a header in the 86th minute.
“There was absolute silence, and then we saw the ripple in the back of the net, and the stadium just exploded,” Crucitti said. “The only live event I’ve been to I can compare the World Cup to was a baseball walkoff homer — but this was like a walkoff homer in Game 7.”
Crucitti’s experiences in Brazil weren’t limited to the stadium.
“We’re walking on Copacabana Beach, a guy heard us talking and asked if we were Americans,” Crucitti said. “He was from Iran and he said, ‘World Cup. 1988. Iran 2, USA 1, Go home USA.’ To Iran, that was like when our hockey team beat the Soviets in 1980. It was the ultimate game they’ll always remember.”
After he returned to the states, Crucitti watched the USA’s struggle with Portugal that went from exhilirating to deflating when Portugal managed a 2-2 tie on the last touch of the match.
“I was watching it on TV with my grandparents, and my 80-year-old grandfather jumped out of his chair when Portugal scored,” Crucitt said. “It was depressing enough that he lost his appetite for Grandma’s dessert.”
A lot of Americans are like Crucitti’s grandfather. They’ve gotten more involved emotionally with this World Cup than with any soccer event ever. The draw with Portugal was watched live on ESPN and Univision by 24.7 million viewers. Americans have gone World Cup-crazy even with the event 3,000 miles away. Even in 1994, when the World Cup was on display in nine U.S. cities, this widespread fever didn’t happen.
Crowds are cheering in bars, cheering in aiports, and families are cheering in their homes for a USA team that’s played with the expected determination but also with unexpected flair.
Crucitti, obviously, will watch the upcoming match with Germany in Recife on Thursday.
“I’ll watch it biting my nails,” he said.
Crucitti played his final baseball game as an Army outfielder on May 11. It was a 3-1 loss to Lehigh in the Patriot League semifinals. He had a good senior season, putting up a .414 on-base percentage as a leadoff man, stealing 16 bases and scoring a team-high 34 runs.
“I went into my last game not knowing it would be the last, so it didn’t really hit me until a few days later,” Crucitti said. “I was fishing when it just hit me hard — ‘Wow, that was my last day of baseball.’”
His last one as a player, although not as a fan, and he’ll keep marking items off his bucket list before he heads to basic training.
Next for Crucitti is a trip to Yankee Stadium for the Yankees vs. the Red Sox.
That’s sort of the World Cup of baseball.