A beaming, shirtless Michael Bradley is the first to reach the staircase. The American midfielder drapes his shoulders in a stars and stripes flag, gives a television camera the thumbs up, and shakes his head in disbelief as Mix Diskerud puts his arm around him. The man who has become known to the world as “Nordic Messi” has just propelled the US to victory with his inspired play. Unable to mask his joy, he pulls on a comically oversized Uncle Sam hat, and moonwalks up the first three steps.
Brazilian fans reach over the handrail desperate to slap the weary Jermaine Jones, and an animated Aron Johannsson on the back. Half way up the stairs, supersub Kyle Beckerman, whose late wondergoal proved the difference in the final, soaks in the moment, turning round as a fan deposits a red white and blue rasta wig on his head. Facing out towards the vaunted Maracana, he holds his arms aloft. His face appears on the scoreboard in close up causing the legendary stadium to ignite in cheers. The Marylander stands in exhausted triumph, part clown, part victorious gladiator.
At the top of the long, narrow staircase stands Sepp Blatter with the grimace of a man desperate to look as if America’s darling run to glory had been his idea all along. Standing between him and an ebullient Sunil Gulati is the World Cup Trophy. The only thing preventing the ambitious US Soccer honcho from pushing the Swiss off the balcony and defenestrating the FIFA President live on television. Before them, Clint Dempsey mounts the stairs with a grave look on his face, aware of the historical weight of the task that lies ahead of him.
In this moment, the man who grew up dirt poor in Nacodoches, Texas is an American Trailblazer. A man who knows his next act will forever change his nation like George Washington, The Wright Brothers or Neil Armstrong before him. As confetti swirls all around, sticking to his sweat soaked temples, the 31-year old, wipes his palms on his jersey, and approaches the World Cup trophy once won by Pele, Beckenbauer, Ronaldo, and Zidane.
A giddy Tim Howard begins to jump up and down besides him, causing the rest of the squad to do the same. Dempsey reaches out to grab the trophy from Blatter’s hands. As he cradles then kisses it, he is overcome by the memory of the days he first learned to play the game, kicking a deflated basketball around a dirt scrub on a Texan trailer park. A single tear rolls down his cheek but that does not deter him. With a sudden roar, the Texan arches his back, thrusting the trophy upwards, over his head as dry ice and columns of fire erupt all around him. The US have won the 2014 World Cup. America will never be the same again.