Three Weeks before the World Cup
“Steve, Fury and I would like a word with you once you’re ready.”
“Sure thing, Coach,” Steve says wistfully as he strips off the last of his kit. He balls his navy shorts up tightly before tossing them in the hamper, frowning as they bounce of the edge and fall to the floor. He’d so been looking forward to a long shower, especially after the grueling passing drills Coulson had been having them run all practice. His calves and thighs are burning and Steve swears he must have run up and down the pitch thirty times or more. They ache even more when he bends down to pick up his shorts and put them in the hamper.
Whatever Coulson and Fury want to talk with him about must be urgent, and Steve isn’t looking forward to what that could be.
“What do you think Coulson wants, Cap,” Barton asks, squinting through the shower spray at Steve.
“Seriously, why are you even asking, bird brain,” Bucky snaps, using a bar of soap to lather his hair. “You know it has to be about Pym.”
“I don’t know that it has to be about Pym – I mean, that was my first guess and all–”
“Suuuurree it was—”
“—but I’d rather hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.”
“I don’t know, guys,” Steve sighs, rolling his neck under the hot spray. “When I know something, you guys will be the first to know.”
It has to be about Pym – Steve can’t think of what else they’d want to talk with him about so urgently – and if they want to talk to him about it right after practice, then it’s probably to tell him that Hank really injured his knee last week and that he’s going to be out for at least the Cup, if not longer, maybe even permanently.
He steals back his bar of Irish Spring from Bucky, lathering up briskly. The conversation isn’t going to change no matter how much he dawdles, and all Steve really wants is to go home, eat, and go to bed. The sooner he meets with them, the sooner he can go.
He rinses off, and grabs one of the stiff white towels from the stack by the entrance to dry off with. He changes back into his street clothes – khakis and a white t-shirt are the best way to stay comfortable during the summers in Denver, he finds. He grabs his gym bag, promises to meet Bucky for dinner later, before he makes the long walk down the hallway to the General Manager’s office.
The door is open, but Steve knocks on the door frame any way. Coulson, still in his meticulously pressed suit and tie, looks up from the laptop that he and Fury had been staring at to wave Steve in. Steve takes a seat in the hard plastic chair, awkwardly fumbling for a place to leave his bag, before dropping it on top of his feet. Coulson and Fury are still staring at the screen, and minutes tick by in silence that has Steve fighting the urge to grit his teeth.
“What do you think, Rogers,” Fury asks, turning the laptop around towards Steve. “Number ten in blue, playing attacking midfield.”
It’s a video of a European league game – France from the looks of it, judging from the ads hanging in the stadium – in the last minutes of the final quarter. The camera’s too far away to get a good look at the name on Ten’s jersey or anything more distinguishing than the mop of dark hair on his head. Ten is fast though, cutting away from the center and arcing wide to the ride to receive the pass from midfield, and send it sailing towards his forward Eleven, who knocks it into upper corner of the net just out of the goalie’s reach, winning the game. Ten and Eleven embrace as the crowd goes wild, and as the camera pans in Steve gets a good look at Ten’s face.
Stark – god it’s been forever since Steve’s seen the other man, and the last place Steve would have expected to find him is playing Ligue 1 soccer; more like a gutter or a morgue –
“We want to call Stark back up to play.”
“Hank’s not coming back, then,” Steve sighs.
“No. Damned fool ripped his ACL again. I told him it was too soon for him to be playing. He’ll be lucky to be walking normally,” Fury says sourly. “Because you’re the captain of the squad, I decided we should run this by you.”
Steve inhales sharply – to say Stark and he have history is putting it very mildly. Steve’s known Stark since they both were playing in the under-17s together, under the watchful eyes of Howard Stark. They practically grew up together. They always wound up rooming together out on the road, Stark coming after Rogers on the roster every time. There was a time when Steve hadn’t minded that –
“Why don’t we just pull Parker up from the reserves?”
“Parker’s too young,” Coulson says with a shake of his head. “It’ll be too much pressure for him right now. Stark is talented, he knows how we play, and he’s had to take direction from you before. He’s not going to have the learning curve someone like Parker or someone completely new is going to have.”
“Coulson thinks that Stark is the final missing piece to creating a team that could win us the Cup,” Fury says wryly.
“I believe I said that he could get us to the podium, sir,” Coulson replies waspishly, and Fury rolls his good eye in response.
“And… he’s sober now,” Steve manages to get out through his dry throat. He already knows the answer to the question, he thinks, just as he already knows what his answer is going to be.
“Stark swears up and down that he’s completely clean, and from what he could get from Lyonnais, they’ll back him up on that. They say he’s shown up to every practice and every match on-time and ready to play. He’s been a model player, according to them,” Coulson comes around the desk and sits in front of Steve, looking almost fatherly, even though he’s only ten years older than Steve, “Stark and you have history, I know, and not all of it good--”
“ – no kidding,” Steve lets out a bark of laughter, even as he feels the burning humiliation and gut-churning mortification as fresh as he did three years ago.
“As I said, not all of it was good. Stark’s put in a lot of effort trying to rebuild his reputation since the Gold Cup, but I know that it’s a lot to forgive. I wouldn’t even ask this of you if I didn’t think it was vital to the team.”
Steve doesn’t know what to say to that. He wants to say ‘no’ – Coulson’s right, he can’t forgive Stark, no matter how many practices he shows up to on-time now, none of that can ever make up for what he did. Except he can see Coulson’s point, that with Hank out for the rest of season, and Coulson refusing to bring up Parker, Stark really is their best option as far as talent to fill the center position.
“Well, it’s not as if we could do any worse in the Cup with him. As long as he’s clean, I’m willing to work with him.”
“Atta boy,” Fury says with a nod of approval. “Stark is coming in over the weekend, and will be at practice on Monday.”
Steve wishes that this didn’t feel like a huge mistake already.
Is Stark Headed for the USMNT World Cup Team?
By Wendy Thornton for USMFans.com
Nicholas Fury, general manager for USMNT, announced that Hank Pym (midfielder) has officially been taken off the World Cup roster. Pym suffered a repeat ACL injury in last month’s game against Costa Rica. The injury is expected to keep him out for at least a season.
Unconfirmed as of yet is Pym’s replacement as starting midfielder. While there are certainly many eligible players on USMNT’s roster, rumors are that USMNT coach Phil Coulson has made the shocking decision of calling up Tony Stark. Stark was even seen last weekend arriving at the Denver International Airport, adding more fuel to the rumors.
Stark recently had an exciting year playing as an attacking midfielder for Olympique Lyonnais, including assisting on the goal that would win OL the 2013 Coupe de France last month.
Stark’s reputation in the European leagues may be that of a star on the rise, but back on his home soil he is infamous for his late nights, party-boy ways, and for being involved in the match fixing scandal at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, where eight members of the starting lineup for the USMNT were expelled from the competition a day before the final match between the US and long-time rival Mexico. USMNT lost the match 4-2. Stark was never charged by CONCACAF or FIFA officials with any wrongdoing.
Steve looks at the clock on his phone and grits his teeth – practice is supposed to start in fifteen minutes, and no one has seen Stark yet.
So much for Stark having changed his ways
This was so typical. Stark will probably come tearing into practice ten minutes late and half-dressed, as usual. Then he’ll smile and talk his way out of any repercussions; because that’s what Stark is really good at – weaseling out of trouble.
That was really some ‘star player’ behavior right there, Steve thought with a derisive snort. Take away Stark’s father’s legacy and then what was he? With his attitude, he wouldn’t even make the cut at a community league.
“It’s a fuckin’ joke, right, Cap?” Luke snarls as he pulls his practice jersey down roughly over his head. “Fury and Coulson are a little late for April Fools, but whatever, very funny hahaha. Stark isn’t really playing for our squad, is he?”
“It’s no joke, Luke,” Steve says as neutrally as he can. He understands where Luke is coming from (he really does), but this wasn’t really his call, even if Fury had said that it was. He checks his phone again, thirteen minutes until practice now.
“Seriously,” Danny, Luke’s best friend and fellow defender, chimes in.
“Guess cheaters really do prosper,” Luke grumbles, grabbing his cleats out his locker.
Steve sighs, because he knows he needs to nip this in the bud right now. The World Cup is less than a month away; they’ll need these two weeks of practice to integrate Stark into the team before the week- long trip down to Brazil to acclimate. Any tension in the squad is going to set back all the progress they’ve made in the last two years. Except, with ten minutes until practice starts and absolutely no sign that Stark is going to deign to grace them with his presence today, Steve is really hoping that this really is some practical joke.
He doesn’t get cell reception in the locker room, something about the concrete and metal throws it off, so he sits down to pull on his cleats. It’s not as if he has Stark’s new phone number. He can’t even call him like he used to, back when Steve was more naïve and thought what Stark was going through was just a phase brought on by the double hammer of grief and new-found freedom. Back before he knew who Stark really was.
Six minutes until practice starts, and Steve decides to head up to the pitch. Coulson is sure to be there, and maybe he’s heard from Stark, knows what his latest excuse is. It’s a shame that soccer isn’t as popular here as it is in Europe, because then Steve could have checked some tabloid website and known instantly what Stark was up to last night, complete with photographs and eyewitness reports.
He stashes his phone in his locker, grabs his water bottle, and heads up the tunnel towards the pitch. He steps out onto the field, blinking a little as his eyes adjust to the early morning sun. The thud of cleats on turf and makes him turn, just in time to see Carol, captain of the women’s team, and Stark coming jogging towards him.
He’d forgotten that those two had been friends, once upon a time. Apparently they still were – and Steve wasn’t going to judge, if that were the case. Even if Steve thought it was a bad idea. They’re talking to each other, Carol letting out an explosive laugh at something Stark says, throwing her long blonde braid over one shoulder with the force of it.
“Hey, Steve,” Carol waves, before sprinting up to his side. “I didn’t know if I’d get to see before you leave,” She grins and sticks out her hand, which he shakes. “The ladies and I are all pulling you boys.”
“Thanks,” Stark says in unison with Steve, and both of them look surprised for a second.
Steve was expecting to be angry. Ever since Coulson and Fury and told him about bringing Stark he’d been trying to think on how he would react to Stark being physically on his team again. He had anticipated rage. He was certain that he would have to go back to Coulson and say that he couldn’t work with Stark. Steve had even briefly – shamefully – dreamt of socking the Stark right across the jaw. He’d expected to hate the very sight of the man.
Stark looks good though – no longer haggard from late nights spent drinking, rough physical practices, and poor diet – he really must have gotten sober like he said. Steve’s surprised at how glad he feels about that – but that’s not exactly unnatural, is it, to want Stark to be better even if he couldn’t stand the other man?
“I’ll let you guys get to practice, then.”
Steve pulls himself from his thoughts just in time to see Stark and Carol buss each other’s cheeks and say their goodbyes. Steve must have said something to Carol too, although can’t for the life of him remember what it was, and soon enough she’s heading down into the locker rooms, leaving him alone on the pitch with Stark for the first time in years.
Steve can feel the hair on his neck start to prickle in anticipation.
Stark must feel it too, because he straightens his spine, throws back his shoulders, and meets Steve’s eyes directly with his jaw clenched. Steve is struck by a sense of déjà vu – Stark had been four inches shorter then, not quite fifteen, and had been the snot-nosed brat that Coach Stark was dumping on the U-17 division as their new forward.
Steve had seen Stark’s nervousness underneath all the bravado back then too. Even eight years later and after everything, Steve’s a little frightened by how much Stark is still Tony.
Except he’s also the man who tried to fix the Gold Cup match and then ratted out the rest of his cohorts in order to secure a deal with FIFA to continue to play. Assistant Coach Coulson called what remained of the team into his hotel room to announce that half of their starting lineup and Coach Stane had been caught trying to fix the final match of cup. Steve had been blindsided alongside everyone else at the news.
Steve had never imagined back then that Stark, even at his lowest, would have ever gotten involved in something as grossly wrong as match fixing – and they’d almost been attached at the hip to one another at that time. They had been staying the same hotel room together for years at that point, they had lockers next to one another, and Steve still hadn’t thought him capable of such treachery. Now, three years later, who knew what he was capable of.
“It’s been…awhile,” Stark’s voice is hesitant, and for a moment his gaze drifts downward, as if in shame, before he meets Steve’s eyes again. “Do you think we could talk after practice?”
“I don’t know that there is anything left to say.”
Stark blinks and opens his mouth to respond, but the shrill call of Coulson’s whistle stops him, and soon the rest of team is on the field and starting warm up laps. Steve automatically falls in line at the head of the pack along with Bucky, leading the rest of the team around the pitch.
Stark may have claimed to have changed his ways, but Steve wasn’t going to believe it until he saw hard evidence – preferably several pieces of evidence, since Stark was so good at playing everyone for fools. He certainly wasn’t going to listen to whatever story he cooked up to try and get back into Steve’s good graces either. Coulson may have fallen for it, but Steve wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
“Dear God, let me set aside everything I think I know about you, and me, and this program, and these steps for an open mind,” the words spill out of his lips in a mumbled mess – he’s said them so many times that they come to him without. The phrase always makes him itch – his parents hadn’t been particularly religious, just dropping in on the occasional Easter or Christmas service – and he’s even less so. Begging has never been his style, and especially begging to imaginary sky wizards that he doesn’t even believe in –
He drops the hands he’s been holding, kills his watery coffee, and makes his way to the door as fast as he can.
“The words aren’t important, Stark. It’s the routine. Developing a routine is what’s going to keep you on the straight and narrow.”
“I’m hardly straight.”
“That is not what I meant, you impertinent child, and you know it.”
He always wishes Yinsen’s were still here after a meeting –maybe that was his routine.
He jogs down the steps of the Episcopal church, quickly spotting Pepper and the cherry-red Charger in the parking lot full of sensible compacts and oversized-underutilized trucks and SUVs.
“I don’t see why I can’t drive the car that I rented,” He grumbles as he slides into the passenger seat.
“Your name’s not on the rental agreement,” Pepper murmurs as she pulls out of the parking lot.
“My money’s paying for it, therefore I rented it.”
“I paid for it and against my better judgment I will add. This thing steers like a boat. I should have gotten the mid-size.”
“You paid for it with money that I paid you, so it’s basically like I paid for it – and if you’d stop being so gentle on the accelerator then she would handle better.”
“Speed limits are laws not suggestions, Tony,” Pepper sighs, but he can hear the fondness in her voice. “When you’re twenty-five you can rent the car and do whatever the hell you want, but I’m driving the car that I rented, and if you don’t like how I drive then you can walk.”
“I should’ve just bought a car – why did I let you talk me out of buying a car, again?”
“Because it’s a waste of money to buy a car that you’re only going to drive for 3 weeks and then never see again?”
“Urgh, your practicality disgusts me, Potts,” Tony bangs his head back against the headrest. His hands come up to fidget with his shoulder strap.
“How’d the meeting go,” Pepper asks as she –honest to god – signals a good 200 feet before she actually makes the turn to the on-ramp.
“I hear that the group in the basement of the Catholic Church gets Starbucks. Let’s hit them up next time.”
Pepper makes a noncommittal sound as she enters the freeway, but the look she shoots him out of the corner of her eye tells him that she’s not fooled – not that she ever is. She wouldn’t be a very good personal sober companion if she was – and she’s one of the best. She’s helped him keep his nose clean these past two years – and he’s pretty sure that she’s the first woman he’s ever managed to be real friends with.
Still, they had been talking about discontinuing her services – well, she had been talking about that and how he didn’t need her anymore. His coming back to the US is perfect timing, in her opinion, for them both make the transition back to their regular lives. Separately.
He’d be quite happy to keep paying whatever outrageous sum she wanted so long as she’d stay and they’d never ever have to find out that she was wrong.
“Come with me to Brazil,” He asks after the silence has gone on too long.
“Tony, that’s not what we agreed to – you can’t keep using me as a crutch, it’s not healthy. You need to learn to live your life again.”
“How can you turn down an all expenses paid month-long trip to Brazil – how are you even real? I’ll slip, I can feel it, all that rum and tequila everywhere, I’m bound to fuck it up and it will be your fault because you weren’t there when I needed you.”
“Tony, you haven’t needed me to keep you from falling off the wagon in over a year – my job pretty much consists of acting as your personal assistant now – and I’d say I was an overpaid one, but I still have to work with you.”
“Then come as my friend – please,” He sighs. “I don’t have anyone else but you. I’m pretty sure Coulson is the only one who wants me there.”
That’s pretty much the understatement of the year. He’s pretty sure that the rest of the team would like it if he took a long hike off a tall cliff. He’d known it was going to be difficult of course – it’s always rough being the new guy on the team, let alone the new guy who’s the last minute replacement.
Not to mention he’s the guy responsible for the team’s embarrassment on the international stage and almost ruined the team’s reputation for good.
He’d expected his presence to ruffle feathers – he was an expert ruffle-r of feathers. He’d expected them to be rough on him both physically and verbally, to try and put him in what they thought was his place and then leave him be.
He hadn’t expected that they’d act like he didn’t exist at all off the field. Barton and Banner had at least looked apologetic about it, but they still went along with it. The rest of the team wouldn’t even deign to look at him.
He might have even been able to handle – it’s not exactly new, it’s hard to make friends when everyone thought you only got on the team because your dad’s the coach. You take the shit and eventually someone new comes along and suddenly you’re a part of the team and the new guy’s the one on the outs.
Steve wouldn’t even talk to him – and that was the hardest to handle. Steve had been one of his first real friends – Steve was always giving people the benefit of the doubt, because Steve was a good guy and that’s what he did. Tony knew that he’d damaged their friendship – he’d been miserable selfish bastard – but he had no idea that he’d burned the whole thing down completely.
How was he going to ever make amends if he couldn’t even get Steve to listen to him?
He’d changed out of his uniform in the locker room in record time after practice and had Pepper take him to the nearest meeting. He’d been tempted to quit – why torture the team or himself with trying to stay when they’d made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t wanted there? That even Steve didn’t want him around anymore?
He’d just assumed that Steve would always be there – taken Steve’s forgiveness as a matter of fact. Shame about his own arrogance to think Steve would welcome him back with open arms warred with the terror at idea that Steve might never forgive him.
Funny how you only realize how much someone matters to you only after you think you might have lost them.
The routine of a meeting – opening prayer, people telling their stories, the closing prayer – had helped immensely to clear his head.
Yinsen would have told him not to be a coward –the team probably couldn’t give him the cold shoulder forever. He needed to go out there and play his best every day, prove to them that he was reliable and they’d come around eventually. Hopefully Steve would see that he’d really changed... and if he didn’t, then he didn’t.
That was the trickiest part of making amends, Yinsen had always said. Sometimes ‘sorry’ wasn’t ever going to be good enough and you just had to learn to be okay with that. Yinsen had learned that the hard way from his own family. That didn’t mean that you got out of trying to make it right.
Steve had made his views perfectly clear and maybe after the cup Tony could try talking to him again, when there wasn’t all this pressure on the team and on Steve as their captain.
Besides – leaving would set back all the hard work he’s put in trying to show everyone he wasn’t a screw up any more – that he was ready for the big leagues in England or Spain. Bailing on the chance to play in the World Cup because a few people (the whole team) didn’t like him would only prove he was the lightweight that Dad had always accused him of being.
Still, it was probably going to be a pretty lonely couple of months until everything got straightened out – Rhodey was playing for France, but they weren’t in the same grouping, so they probably wouldn’t even be in the same city unless they wound up facing off against one another. It’d be nice to have someone there for him–
“Alright, I’ll go on an all expenses paid trip to Brazil as your quote-unquote friend,” Pepper announces and sometimes he wonders if she’s not really a psychic, because he swears she knows what he’s thinking even though he hasn’t said a word.
Maybe she just knows him that well that he doesn’t have to say anything at all.
“Whoa whoa whoa – friends pay their own way to Brazil.”
“But Tony,” Pepper’s voice is bright and Tony knows he’s screwed before she even says anything, “If my money is your money, then what difference does it make?”
Team USA is Behind Coulson 100 Percent
Steve Rogers, Team Captain, Says That the Rumors are Not True
By Wendy Thornton for USMFans.com
June 2nd, 2014
Ever since Coach Phil Coulson added Tony Stark as one of Team USA’s starting midfielder, there has been growing skepticism off the field about Coulson’s ability to bring home a win for the US. While Stark has had a good couple years playing with Ligue 1 over in Europe, his last appearance as a part of Team USA was as part of the infamous 2011 CONCACAF squad where he and four other members of the starting squad, as well as former Team USA Coach Obadiah Stane, were accused of attempting to fix the final match between Team USA and Mexico. Stark was later cleared of any wrongdoing by FIFA and CONCACAF officials, but the scandal has done irreparable damage to Stark’s reputation here in the States.
Now, as Team USA gets ready to depart for the World Cup in Brazil next week, that are murmurs that the players themselves are displeased with Coach Coulson’s decision to add Stark to the team at the last minute. Team USA had several candidates to fill Pym’s position on the team roster already. Johnny Storm and Scott Summers were two names that were put forward by many analysts as likely replacements. Both have been playing on the second-string squad for the last year and proven themselves capable of handling the pressure of playing on an international level.
“You can’t trust anything you hear,” Rogers said, when asked about whether the team’s faith in Coulson was wavering. “The boys and I are behind Coulson 100 percent. If anyone can get us to our first victory at the World Cup, it’s going to be him.”
I managed to run into Steve Rogers, captain of Team USA, at the Dr. Abraham Erksine Memorial Fundraiser at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Rogers is one of the spokespersons for the charity, which raises money for research into the treatment of pediatric cancers, as well providing financial assistance to lower income families. Rogers has talked extensively about being one of the first patients to receive Dr. Erksine’s revolutionary treatment protocol for childhood leukemia, which cured Rogers of his own acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). Other doctors had informed his mother that the then 8-year-old Rogers had less than a year to live.
“He died shortly before my first blood test came back clear,” Rogers told the crowd, visibly choking up, “He never got to see that his treatment worked and I never got to thank him for giving me my future back – but his work continues on in the everything that the Erksine Foundation does, and I think he would be very proud of that.”
Team USA faces off against South Korea on June 14th in Fortaleza, Brazil at 5 PM MST in Group D, Match 8 of the World Cup.
Coulson had made a tradition of hosting a party the night before they traveled for games. It helped foster a sense of team spirit to hang out together in their off hours before a big match or so he told anyone who tried to skip it. It also, Coulson had confided to Steve recently, made it almost impossible for anyone to get into any trouble the night before departure. He always made sure the party lasted until 9 or 10 and made sure to schedule their flight to leave at 6 the next morning. Coulson was wilier than many people gave him credit for.
Steve adjusts his grip on the heavy case of soda that he was carrying, before flipping the latch on the gate and entering Coulson’s familiar – and crowded – backyard.
Jim Hammond, who was instantly distinguishable by his bright shock of white-blonde hair, was manning the barbeque as the weather was clear this evening; he’d been added to the squad roster the same year as Steve, but retired from play to take over managing the U15 squad a couple years back. He still came to these parties though, to hang out and run the grill. It was a good thing too – Hammond had a knack for grilling that no one else could ever match. Hammond had been responsible for some of the best barbeque in Steve’s life.
He waves to Hank, who was seated with his leg in a large brace next to his girlfriend Jan in a pair of deck chairs. Hank had met Jan after his last surgery – she’d been his physical therapist then. The pair seemed to get along pretty well. Jan had seemed to be able to temper some of the worst of Hank’s mood swings, even if the pair looked a little miserable tonight. It couldn’t be easy, seeing off the team to the World Cup. Just a month ago Hank would have been going with them instead of facing more surgery and possibly the end of his career. Steve made a note to talk to Jan and him later, at least try to find out what was going on and what Hank’s plans were going forward. Hank could go to some pretty dark places if he didn’t have something useful to do.
Johnny, Ben, and Reed were in one of the far corners, talking quietly amongst each other. They always seemed to travel in a pack together both on and off the field. The only thing missing was Johnny’s sister and agent, Sue – but it isn’t long before she joins them, passing out cans of soda and taking a seat on Ben’s knee.
He drops the drinks off over by the cooler and starts to make his rounds, checking in on his teammates. Nerves always high in the run up to a match, especially one as major as the World Cup, and as captain of the team it’s Steve’s job to know how his team is doing.
He makes sure to talk to everyone – well almost everyone that is, when he spots Stark and the redheaded woman chatting with Barton and Banner. The woman – Steve thinks he’s heard Stark call her ‘Pepper’ once – always promptly arrives at the end of practice to collect Stark and whisk him away to wherever he’s staying while he’s in Denver. She must be his girlfriend, although Stark never officially introduces her to the team as such.
She isn’t the sort of girl that Stark used to go with. Her hair is always pulled back into a neat ponytail and her button-down shirts and light khaki trousers that are always perfectly pressed, even with the summer heat. She was a classy woman and, well, Steve knows it’s wrong to say it but all of Stark’s other girlfriends (if they could be called girlfriends) were… not. He’s sure they were perfectly nice people, but… he’s really having trouble figuring out what a seemingly nice person like Pepper could see in someone like Stark.
“I swear, every time I catch you glaring at Stark like that, Adele starts playing in my head: I set FI-RE to the RAAAAINN…” Bucky whispers in Steve’s ear. Steve chokes on his soda, spitting it into the grass – then looks around quickly to make sure that no one else is paying attention to Bucky make a total ass out of himself.
“Oh Bucky, maybe one day you’ll be funny,” Steve gasps out, trying to regain his breath.
“I’ll have you know I’m hilarious,” Bucky is grinning but his eyes are deadly serious, “Sometimes, I think if you didn’t have me, there wouldn’t be a single person in the world who understood you.”
Steve blinks at Bucky’s uncharacteristic frank tone and his guts churn nervously.
“I wish I understood what you were talking about…”
“I know I only know him by reputation because I was out in godforsaken Russia– but he’s an arrogant prick trading in on his father’s name and the fact that his father used to coach the team. If he weren’t completely busting his ass out there and y’know weren’t actually great, I’d totally understand why you pushing him harder than anyone else.”
“You used to never shut up about him, Steve, and now you can barely say his name. It’s not like you to hold grudges, especially when they never found him guilty of anything,” Bucky sighs, and looks at Steve with pity. No one’s looked at him like that since he was stuck in a hospital bed. “The rest of the team has picked up on the tension between you two -- you guys need to work this out before the cup otherwise everyone’s going to pay.”
Steve wants to say that just because they never found any proof that Stark did anything wrong, doesn’t mean he was innocent – but then he realizes how petty that sounds. His stomach goes sour as he realizes what a jerk he’s been. Bucky was right – it’s not like him to hold grudges like this, and Steve doesn’t want to be that kind of guy, ever.
He finishes off the last of his soda and looks around for Stark – Bucky’s right. Despite Steve’s severe reservations about Stark’s presence, he can’t let it affect the team. Stark’s their midfielder and the team needs to see that he can be depended on.
There’s no sign of Stark anywhere.
Tony Stark: Prodigal American Soccer Royalty Returns Home
Can he carry on his father’s legacy and make Team USA a real competitor the world stage?
By Christine Everheart, Vanity Fair, June 2014
I meet Tony Stark in the tea room of Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, where he has taken up residence while he trains with the rest of Team USA before the World Cup. It seems fitting that the son of the famous Howard Stark should wish to meet me in a place of such opulent splendor.
Howard Stark is of course known as one of the greatest American soccer players of his generation. As head coach of Team USA he did a great deal to foster the popularity of the sport in the United States, influencing the next generation of American players who have gone on to play in some of Europe’s top clubs. He died tragically in a car accident before he could see his son play for the first time on the national stage at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Stark enters five minutes late, looking decidedly out of place amongst the Edwardian splendor dressed in tattered jeans and AC/DC t-shirt. A tall, willowy redheaded woman follows closely beside him, chastising him out of the corner of her mouth.
“Sorry, I’m late,” Stark says, taking the seat across from me. “Call me Tony – and this is Pepper, professional wrangler.”
Pepper gives me a tight smile, before feigning attention at her Blackberry. Stark fidgets in his seat and his eyes dart around the room, as if unsure where to look. Stark has a reputation for high energy both on and off the field, and certainly the impending World Cup would be cause to give anyone nerves.
“I suppose I’ll answer the obvious first question, ‘What would my father think about me playing in the World Cup?’” Stark blurts out, eyes focused suddenly. “He’d be proud, I guess, that all his hard work on developing soccer here in US paid off. The US finally has a team that has a fighting chance at winning the Cup. I mean, the only time we even made it to the podium was at the very first cup in 1930 – and we’ve been getting our asses handed to us ever since then. A friend of mine over on Olympique Lyonnais says that we’ll never win the cup as long as we insist on calling it ‘soccer’ instead of ‘football’,” Stark laughs softly. “If we win, he has to call it soccer for the rest of his life.”
I ask him about what it was like to train under his father.
“It was – he wasn’t ‘Dad’ when I was training – he was ‘Coach Stark’. He’d make me do 50 pushups if I didn’t call him that. He pushed me – if there was some new training regimen in England or Brazil, some better way to get faster or stronger then I had to be doing it. Sometimes I felt like an experiment – his attempt to build the world’s best soccer player. He knew that I’d be one of his legacies and he wanted to make sure that I’d be able to handle that,” Stark sighs, looking off into the distance thoughtfully.
Stark then squirms and pulls a dog-eared photo and slides it across the table. The picture features a young woman, dark blonde hair pulled back into a messy ponytail, smiling as she holds the arms of the dark-haired toddler in front of her, keeping him standing as he kicks out at the soccer ball that is almost half his size.
“My mother was a soccer player too – won NCAA women’s soccer player of the year when she was a senior. That’s how my parents met actually – he’s the one who gave her the award,” Stark rolls his eyes, “Everyone talks about my dad and all the contributions that he made to soccer here and how much he invested in training me – not that I’m not grateful – but she’s the one who first taught me how to play.”
Then I ask the question that everyone’s been dying to know since the last time Stark appeared on the national team: What happened at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup? Why was he suspended and then reinstated to play by FIFA while the rest of his coconspirators were banned from play for life, including Coach Obadiah Stane?
The reaction is immediate – Stark goes quiet as Pepper announces that the interview is over. Stark puts a hand on her wrist gently, urging her to sit down again, looking almost grave as he grabs my recorder off the table and holds the microphone close to his mouth, seemingly intent that I not be able to misinterpret what he is to say.
“I know that there are a lot of questions about what happened – while the investigation was going on I wasn’t allowed to say anything. After I was cleared of any wrongdoing I was trying to pick up the pieces of my life and career and there wasn’t time. I let a lot of people down in 2011, the fans and my teammates most of all. I won’t pretend that the fans don’t deserve answers; they do. Unfortunately, the way that it was settled by FIFA I’m not allowed to talk about what happened, other than to say that I was cleared of any wrongdoing by the judges.”
Stark’s expression is pensive for a moment as he sets down my tape recorder. Then he grins. It’s a grin that’s familiar to Stark’s opponents – broadcasting arrogance and the sense that Stark knows something they don’t in a single quirk of his lips.
“But come find me after the cup, win or lose, and I’ll give you the goddamn story of the year.”
I’ll be waiting, Mr. Stark.
“Oh… uhm, okay. I’ll just go ask if someone can switch with me… No problem.”
Steve looks up blearily from the in-flight magazine and into the face of an equally exhausted Stark. Steve had been one of the first of the team to arrive at the airport, only to meet a grim-faced Coulson who announced that due to an unseasonably early tropical storm the airport in Orlando had been closed and their flight to Rio de Janeiro cancelled. Fortunately, the airline had been able to re-route them – but instead of travelling together, they were all left running to different gates in small groups to catch their last minute connections.
He hadn’t even been aware that Stark had followed him from Denver to Detroit to Atlanta.
“Must have done it alphabetically this time – Rogers, Stark…,” Stark mutters, more to himself than to Steve – at least that’s how it used to be. He was always talking to himself and it used to drive Coach Stark crazy. Coach had made Tony run laps every time he’d done it –
He wants to say that it’s fine – that there’s no reason for Tony to bother the flight attendant. Certainly they can sit together for ten hours without killing one another? The words catch in his throat and Tony’s already headed back up the aisle leaving some of their fellow passengers grumbling in his wake.
Guilt throbs in his gut – he’d let this go on for too long. He should have talked to Tony that first day like he’d asked and instead he’d acted like an ass and completely froze him out –
Steve murmurs apologies as he makes his way up the narrow aisle against the stream of fellow travelers trying to make their way to their seats. Tony’s bright red sweater beckons him forward until he finally catches the man by the elbow.
“I thought you didn’t have anything to say to me.” Tony jerks his arm from Steve’s grasp sharply in a rebuke that leaves Steve fighting the urge to cringe.
“I deserve that,” Steve says and watches with relief as some of the tension leaves Tony’s body.
“Look, we should talk, I want to talk, but after the Cu—”
“Gentlemen, I’m going to have to ask you to be seated, we’re going to be departing shortly,” A flight attendant, a cheerful young man with bleached blonde tips in his hair, informs them with forced cheerfulness.
Tony looks at him out of the corner of his eye, looks like he’s about to protest.
“C’mon Tony, let’s go,” Steve says, dropping an arm on the other man’s shoulder. The sudden flare of hope in Tony’s eyes that is just as quickly smothered feels like a slap. He should have gotten this over with that first day instead of letting it drag out so long.
They take their seats, and Stark pulls one of the latest tablet-computer-things out of his backpack and tucks it into the seat in front of him before he shoves his bag up in overhead bin. Fortunately they’re on the outer aisle so it’s only the two of them here. Steve makes sure to bookmark his place in The Long Goodbye, shifting over as Tony gets settled in beside him.
Steve only listens to the same-old preflight safety lecture as he tries to subtly study Tony out of the corner of his eye. He can’t remember how many road trips have started like this – with Tony sitting by his side as they make their way to a cross-town match. They’re both older now – the baby fat has melted off, leaving a strong a chin and sharp cheekbones in their wake. The goatee is a bit ridiculous – but Tony had been obsessed with growing one out for as long as Steve had known him. It’s oddly attractive on him – Tony has the arrogance to carry off the look without being obnoxious it seems.
The plane roars to life and takes off and the reality that Steve’s going to the World Cup as the captain of the team no less, really sinks in. There’s no going back now – it’s really happening. He’s representing his country in the biggest events in soccer. He’d be lying if it didn’t make him nervous.
Which means it’s only more important that he resolves things with Tony now, for the team’s sake. They need to play their best out there. Last time they didn’t even make it to the knockout phase—
The words come as the plane finally levels out, and Steve has to crack his ears to make sure that he heard correctly. Tony wasn’t the apologizing kind –
“I was a jerk to you back to then. I didn’t value your friendship like I should have and I did a lot of shitty things that you have no reason to forgive me for, but I’m sorry anyway. I hope that eventually we can be friends.”
The words almost sound too practiced and Steve’s first instinct is to distrust them– but now isn’t the time. The team has to come first.
“It’s water under the bridge,” He finds himself saying for lack of a better answer, “Let’s just start over?”
“Yeah,” The relief in Tony’s voice is almost palpable. “That’d be great.”
Can USMNT Prodigy Trio Give USA it’s First WC Trophy?
By Wendy Thornton, (Featured Columnist), Huffington Post Soccer
June 30th, 2014
These have been a tense past two weeks for USMNT as they travel across the Brazilian countryside. They have been playing through the group stage leading up to the first stage of knockouts last night at Itaipava Arena Pernambuco in the city of Recife on the northeastern coast of Brazil.
Their journey started earlier this month in Manaus at Arena Amazonia where USMNT faced off against Ghana. At the 2010 World Cup Ghana eliminated USMNT from the Cup in the round of sixteen with a score of 2 to 1. This time USMNT played strong with James “Bucky” Buchannan scoring 2 points early in the game with the assistance of midfielders Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. Reed Richards shutout the game for most of the night, before Ghana managed to chip in a goal in the last few minutes of the second half.
There were concerns before the Cup about how well Stark would work within the strong framework of USMNT and the close partnership of Barnes and Rogers, especially given his party boy reputation. Yet, in spite of the naysayers, Barnes, Rogers, and Stark have turned in some of the best playing in the history of USMNT. The ease with which they anticipate each other’s moves would belie the few weeks that they have actually been working together as a team. The combined skills of these three experienced and talented men working together have enabled USMNT to dominate on the forward and midfield, with some even dubbing them the USMNT’s first ‘Golden Generation’.
There have even been whispers that this might finally be the team helps USMNT take the Cup, and the whispers have been growing louder with each match played.
Last night USMNT entered the first phase of knockouts, playing against the Netherlands at Itaipava Arena Pernambuco. Tensions were high as neither team scored in the first half of the game, each struggling to maintain run of the field. The shutout was finally broken after Rogers intercepted the ball with a header, caught by Stark in half-volley, and quickly passed up the midfield to Barnes, who scored the only goal of the game. USMNT now advances to the quarter finals where they will face France. The last time that USMNT was back in 2002 where they lost to Germany 0 to 1.
USMNT’s current standings:
USMNT vs Ghana: 2 to 1 ( Win)
USMNT vs Argentina: 1 to 1 (Draw)
USMNT vs Japan: 0 to 0 (Draw)
USMNT vs the Netherlands: 1 to 0 (Win)
USMNT will play France on July 5th at the Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova in Nazare.
Tony’s pretty sure he’s never spent so much time in a bus travelling between matches as he has in the last few weeks – 124 hours in total by his calculations. It had taken them nearly two days of driving to get to their very first match in Manaus, and then another two for them to get to their next one in Itaquera. Good thing he’d thought to bring his own wireless router and a solar charger for his tablet – the countryside was certainly pretty, but at 60 miles per hour it tended to become a blur.
Providing internet access and a place to recharge on the bus certainly had helped him make inroads with the team as well. Cage had looked particularly relieved and spent half the trip face-timing with his apparently pregnant wife back in the States. If he couldn’t bribe them with access to their facebook profiles, well, his stash of contraband American candy certainly helped.
Except for Steve – he’d hoped that after their conversation on the plane that it would mean getting something like their old friendship back – but while Steve’s not been as cold as he was before, Tony wouldn’t say they’ve exactly made much progress either. At least they’d been managing to share a room without too much awkwardness – although that was probably because Steve was hardly there except to sleep.
The funny thing about travelling games, especially in big ones like the Cup, was that despite spending almost a month here, he hadn’t really seen anything but what the hotel rooms and stadiums of Brazil had to offer. Certainly, they always had a few days of down time between matches but travelling between the stadiums, practices, and strategy sessions it ate most of his days. Nights they supposedly had to themselves, except for the 9 PM curfew.
Some of the guys had gone out – but since Tony wasn’t going to bars any more it wasn’t like he could go with him. He’d tried back in Lyon hanging with the rest of the team at the bar after the game – but it’d only been awkward being restricted to soda or water while the rest of the team drank without having to worry whether they’d ever be able to stop once they started.
He’d gotten used to going home on his own after the game, had even taken up learning coding as a way to distract himself from thinking about what he was missing. He knew the alcohol would kill him if he let it, but that never kept him from wanting it all the same.
So instead of joining the rest of the team and tempting himself with damnation he’s sitting in the hotel lounge – the only place he can get wireless reception in the building – learning to program loops into Python. Rhodey had texted to say he might stop by later if he could get Deschamps’ eagle eye for more than a few seconds.
“Of all the hotels, in all of the towns, in all of the world you had to walk into mine, Tony.”
The hairs on the back of his neck prickle and Tony doesn’t even have to look behind him to know who it, even though he hasn’t heard from the other man in three years.
“Actually, it’s the other way round,” He says as Ty takes a seat across from him without invitation.
“I thought you’d be happy to see an old friend,” Ty pouts and Tony wonders what he ever saw in the other man.
“What do you want, Ty,” He sighs, fatigue catching up to him suddenly.
“Why can’t I visit with an old friend?”
“We haven’t been friends in a long time.”
Ty will undoubtedly stay here and make a nuisance of himself and Tony really doesn’t want the team to see the two of them together. He’s just started to make some progress with them and the last thing he wants that he wants is for them to get the wrong idea. Ty might have been able to convince the rest of the country that he was truly remorseful about what happened at the Gold Cup by crying on Oprah’s couch, but if Tony had been practically persona non grata the last few years then Ty might as well have been dead.
“How about answering a few questions for your fans back home then,” Ty cuts off his exit, flashing his press badge with a smirk.
“Oh, wow, who was dumb enough – oh wait, NBC, never mind it makes total sense to me now – and I have no comment for you other than we’re going to win tomorrow.”
“That’s great. Anything to say about the events surrounding your suspension from the 2011 Gold Cup?”
“Really, Ty? What angle could you possibly have on this?”
“What does it matter as long as you’re the first one to tell it – isn’t that right, Tony,” Ty’s grin his sharp and Tony knows that he’s walked into a trap. Damn his compulsion to always get the last word – he should have just blown Ty off and kept walking.
“You’re the one who refused to say anything, Tony. The public can’t help but have questions.”
“You know damn well why I didn’t answer questions— I have plenty of dirt on you Ty.”
“And so do I, Tony. There are plenty of things – pictures – that I know that you wouldn’t want getting out— especially certain people.”
“I think you have overstayed your welcome.”
Tony’s pretty sure that he’s never been more relieved to hear Rhodey’s voice in his life, relaxing as he feels the other man’s hand come down on his shoulder.
“Got yourself another toy, I see,” Ty’s words are bitter as his face turns an unattractive shade of tomato. “Watch your back, Rhodes, this one’ll stab you in the back when you least suspect it.”
They both watch as Ty storms out the hotel entrance, nearly bowling over one of the bell boys in his anger.
“You’re accent’s really improved. You’ll be ready for the Premiere League in no time.”
“Thank you, I had a great tutor – when I was in high school.”
“Why you got to lie like that, sourpatch?”
“Who was that?”
“Nobody – just an old teammate.”
“For a teammate he seems very unfriendly—”
“You know how it is,” Tony’s about to unleash a witty reply and distract Rhodey from the whole awkward mess –
“HEY ROGERS, BETTER GET IN THERE – YOUR BOY STARK’S CONSORTING WITH THE ENEMY.”
Ty always had to get in the last word – and generally had to be a real asshole about it too. How had Tony forgotten that? He’d been such a fool back then – how had he not seen what Ty was before –
“It was just Ty being an ass. Those idiots at NBC decided to send him to be the World Cup correspondent or whatever –“
“Who’s this,” Steve’s voice is clipped and if Tony didn’t know better he’d swear Steve was suspicious or something.
“Steve this is Rhodey – Rhodey, Steve. We used to play together on the OL, but now he’s being a big traitor and leaving me to play in the Premiere League with you next year.”
“So you’re with the French team, then?”
“Well… yeah, of course he is?”
“Aren’t you a little far from your hotel, then?”
“Steve – seriously, it’s not like we’re not trading plays or anything—”
“I’m sure you’re a nice guy, Mr. Rhodey, but what with the match tomorrow—”
“Tony – it’s fine, he’s right. I shouldn’t have come and Deschamps is probably noticed I’m gone by now. Good luck out there tomorrow – you guys are going to need it.”
Rhodey leaves and then it’s just him and Steve in the lobby, plus about a dozen onlookers who are pretending not to notice how Steve is radiating potentially carcinogenic levels of disapproval.
There’s been a weird sort of tension between them since the flight down here – Steve keeps saying that everything between them is fine, but sometimes Tony wonders if he’s not just saying that – although he doesn’t know why he would. Besides which, Steve’s one of the most honest people Tony knows (which may not be saying much, but still). Tony’s fairly certain Steve wouldn’t lie to him about things being square between them though…
“You know I wouldn’t cheat, don’t you?”
“I know,” Steve says, turning away to head upstairs to their room.
If Steve doesn’t believe him – Tony’s not sure that there’s much else he can do.
Is the Magic Gone? USMNT Cup Future in Doubt
By Wendy Thornton, (Featured Columnist), Huffington Post Soccer
July 6th, 2014
Last night’s match between USMNT and France in the quarterfinals was one of the closest in this year’s World Cup. There were two extra periods attempting to break the 1-1 tie, before finally moving to a penalty kick shootout where Johnny Storm scored the winning goal and ended the match at 2-1.
The trouble seemed to come towards the end of the first half when James Rhodes of France intercepted a pass from Stark, which he carried for the first goal for France, tying up the match. During the stoppage between the first and second halves Rogers was seen speaking with Coach Coulson, who then pulled Stark from the game. Stark appeared to be upset, arguing with Coach Coulson well into the second half, before finally taking a seat on the bench just before the first overtime period began. The second-half of the game was a complete shutout with France running the field while USMNT’s Reed Richards, Bruce Banner, and Luke Cage struggled to defend the goal.
It’s unknown why Rogers had Stark pulled from the game, but the affect that Stark’s absence had on morale was clear. There were rumors of an altercation between Stark, Rogers, and Tiberius Stone at their hotel the night before the match. Stone, of course, was infamously convicted of match fixing at the CONCACF Gold Cup in 2011. Sources claim that Stark fought verbally with both men in the hotel lobby.
USMNT vs Ghana: 2 to 1 ( Win)
USMNT vs Argentina: 1 to 1 (Draw)
USMNT vs Japan: 0 to 0 (Draw)
Knockout Stage: USMNT vs the Netherlands: 1 to 0 (Win)
Quarter Finals: USMNT vs France: 2 to 1 (Win)
With their narrow 2-1 win USMNT advances forward to the semifinals where they will play Germany for a chance at a slot in the final match for the World Cup on July 9th at Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.
“What the hell was that Steve – you can’t just take me out of a match like that! I miss one pass and I’m out?”
Steve had been hoping that Stark would’ve been long gone by now, Steve had made sure to take as long as he reasonably could making his way to his hotel room. Obviously that had been too much to hope for. Surely Stark had to know that Steve was onto him now?
He’d been so close to trusting him – but seeing Stone turn up like a recurrent tumor after all these years had reminded Steve not to be taken in so easily, like he had been the last time. Stark and Stone had been ‘just friends’ back then, planning to sabotage the Gold Cup under Steve’s nose the whole time. They’d been roommates and Steve hadn’t had a clue…
“Did you miss Tony? Because I don’t know that you did.”
“What do you mean – did I miss? Of course I missed, are you crazy?” Stark stares at him a long moment, his face going white, then bright red. He’s shocked – that’s good, Steve might finally get the truth out of him now. “I didn’t cheat, Steve. Not today – and not back in 2011.”
“Pull the other one, why don’t you? How did you not know they were planning to cheat? You can’t expect me to believe that you didn’t know what they were up to! You were ’friends with all of them – you spent all your free time with them that season.”
“I was the one who turned them in!”
“When you got caught—”
“No, when I found out. As soon as I found out, I got a hold of Fury and the head referee and reported them.”
“So why not say that, Tony? Why not tell the whole world you were so innocent instead of running and hiding away like you were guilty? We were friends and you never thought once to tell me what was going on! Everyone looked at me like I was just as guilty as the rest of you – because we’d shared a room for all those years, and everyone said that I should have been the first to know – I trusted you and I wake up one morning and you’re gone and the team’s in shambles and it’s all your fault!”
His words ring back him and Steve’s aware for the first time that he’s shouting – and worries for a brief second what the neighbors must be thinking, hearing the two of them carry on like this.
“It wasn’t my choice,” Tony’s voice is quiet now. “That whole year was so screwed up -- I was so screwed up. I would have told you if I could but everything was such a mess, I didn’t think— I’m sorry I should have told you.” Tony lets out a shaky sigh as he sits on the bed. “That year after Dad died – all I could think about was that he wasn’t around to tell me what a disappointment I was. I didn’t have to play anymore, but it wasn’t exactly like I had anything better to do either. I overheard what they were planning and… I was pretty sure I hated soccer until that night – but as much as I hated it, I couldn’t let them get away with cheating either.” Tony’s gaze is deadly earnest as he meets Steve’s gaze. “So I told Fury – and Fury called the refs and the committee in and then they decided that it’d better if I just kept quiet, and then Fury has my ass in the back of a cab headed for a rehab center.”
“Why all the secrecy if you didn’t do anything wrong?”
“Because—” Stark jumps up and begins pacing the room. “Because the only reason I found out was because Ty and I were fucking and the officials decided that it made match fixing scandal more tawdry then it had to be.”
“You expect me to believe that you’re gay? After the parade of girls you used to drag back to our hotel and leave me sleeping on someone else’s floor?”
“Actually, I’m bisexual – not that it makes a difference to most people,” Tony let’s out a mirthless chuckle. “Christ, Steve, who do you think Dad was talking to when he used to scream, ‘There are no faggots in football’ at us during practice?”
“… me, actually,” the words come out shaky – of course Tony is only the second person who he’s come out to. The clubs might not actively try to destroy the career of an openly gay player anymore – but it wasn’t exactly welcoming environment either. He had to have his teammates’ respect and his opponents’ fear – and being openly gay would’ve completely undermined that.
Like Coach Stark had said – no faggots in football – at least not openly.
“Steve – I’m sorry, he was a rotten bastard – I didn’t know.”
“That was the point,” Steve’s surprised at how much bitterness is contained in those four words. He feels exposed.
“Yeah…,” Tony sighs. “So, that’s what happened. Take it or leave it. I’ll see you on the field tomorrow”
Then Stark leaves, already on his phone talking to Pepper.
Strangely enough – Steve still can’t wrap his head the fact that Tony’s gay – bi – whatever, but he does believe that’s telling the truth about what happened the Gold Cup. Soccer has made strides in the last few years with being more inclusive, but the idea that the officials covered up the fact that Tony only found out was because he was sleeping with the guy because it was somehow more unsavory than the match fixing wasn’t surprising.
Tony being bi – Steve’s too tired to deal with it. He’s not even sure that it means anything. It doesn’t change the way Tony plays. Steve won’t let it change the way he treats him – and now that Steve knows what happened, he can treat him like any other teammate now.
Dreams Dashed! USMNT Loses 1-4 to Germany
Germany Advances to Play Brazil for the Cup; USMNT faces Italy for Third Place Match
By Wendy Thornton (Featured Columnist), Huffington Post Soccer
July 9th, 2014
USMNT’s hopes of making it to the final match of the World Cup were dashed tonight after a stunning 1-4 loss to Germany at Arena Corinthians.
USMNT appeared to have rallied together after their last match that saw forward Tony Stark benched at half-time, but it wasn’t enough. The run of play was unfortunately against USMNT as Loki Laufeyson (forward) and his step-brother Thor Odinson (midfield) dominated control of the ball. The pair are famous for their sibling rivalry both on and off the field, but have managed to come together for the good of the team and national pride. Laufeyson scored once in the first half of the match, leaving USMNT a shot at breaking Germany’s lead.
The tides seemed to turn and it looked as though USMNT might overcome the strong German offense when Clint Barnes scored in the beginning of the second half. It was not meant to be, however, as Laufeyson and Odinson quickly reasserted their control over the field and left USMNT scrambling to keep up.
One of the lowest points of the match came when Laufeyson managed to fake out Rogers not once but twice, punching through USMNT’s with the assistance of Odinson and Hogun. Odinson managed to score two more goals against USMNT, before Laufeyson rose up in the last minutes of the game to score a fourth goal, tying his brother for the total number of goals scored in the game.
With their 4-1 loss, USMNT now travels to Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha in Brasilia to play against Italy for third place.
“Steve, I’m so sorry – I totally thought Loki and Thor were still fighting. Everyone in the Bundesliga knows that Loki can hardly stand being in the same stadium with Thor most of the time. I had no idea they’d decided that the Cup was more important than whatever’s they’ve been fighting about. Trust me – if you knew Loki you’d totally see why it was such an easy mistake. Bucky’ll back me up on this one.”
Lying on the uncomfortably brand-new bed, staring up at the ceiling, Steve feels vaguely bad for leaving Barton out there shouting in the hallway – certainly it wasn’t very good leadership. It hadn’t been Barton’s fault that Laufeyson turned out to be quicker than an eel and had them chasing their tails for 90 minutes on the field.
No, the only person to blame for their defeat was Steve. They’d been outplayed – plain and simple – and Steve should have done something about it instead of letting Laufeyson and the rest of the Germans make fools out of them.
Coulson had cornered him just outside the locker room, telling him that he didn’t blame Steve for what happened – which only made everything worse. Steve was the captain, he should have been better. Maybe if he hadn’t let himself get distracted he wouldn’t have let down his team – his country.
“Barton – I thought you were going to the bar like the rest of them,” Stark’s voice carries easily, and through the thin walls of the hotel he can hear the other man’s footsteps as he approaches.
“Yeah… I suppose,” Barton sighs.
“You did a good job out there. I thought for a second there that the ball was going to bounce off the post before you bent it.”
“Still didn’t win the game.”
“Next time, Barton – we’ll be four years smarter and he’ll be four years older. We’ll completely demolish that greasy-haired sonuvabitch then.”
“Don’t let Thor hear you call their Mom a bitch – he’s sensitive.”
“I thought they weren’t biologically related?”
“Yeah, well, Thor doesn’t see it that way. But yeah – next time, his ass is grass. You’re not coming with us? You haven’t been out at all – all work and no play makes Stark a dull boy and all.”
“Nah, you guys go have fun Barton. I’m going to get a head start on my packing.”
“You sure? I know things were a bit frosty when you started but – meh, you grow on people like mold.”
“I’m sure – here, buy everyone a round on me. Give the rest of that to the waitress.”
“You sure? This is—”
“Just enough to ensure that they don’t think we’re a bunch of cheapskates or poor losers.”
“Yeah – thanks, Stark!”
“See you tomorrow.”
Steve can hear the lock disengage before Stark enters the room, and he forces himself to sit up. Stark would be well within his rights to chew Steve out – if Steve had been less concerned with what Stark was up to and spent more time watching the replays and working on plays then maybe they’d be playing Brazil for the Cup instead of squabbling with Italy for third place.
Stark doesn’t say anything though – instead he starts packing just like he told Barton he would. He doesn’t even acknowledge Steve’s presence, which is worse than shouting in a lot of ways. It’s nothing less than Steve deserves though – hadn’t he done the exact same thing to Stark during the practice session instead of working on incorporating the man fully into their team? Maybe if he hadn’t –
He’s so mired in his own self-loathing that he barely notices when Stark comes to beside him on the bed – so he’s understandably shocked when Stark -- Tony presses his lips to Steve’s in a tentative kiss that runs through Steve’s body like direct current.
“What about Pepper,” Steve asks, unwillingly jerking away from the warm scent of Tony’s soap and aftershave. It’s such a silly question – because Steve has no idea why Tony would do this to him – why did Tony kiss him – didn’t know that Tony even had feelings for him like this.
“What about Pepper—” Tony looks confused for a second, before chuckling. “She’s not my girlfriend, Steve. She’s my sober companion. She’s the one who’s been teaching me stay out of trouble the last couple years. She’d probably die laughing at the thought of us together.”
“Oh…” Well, that certainly explained a few things. Silence stretches between them and Steve’s fingers come up to brush up against his still-tingling lips. “Why did you—”
“Because you looked sad and I wanted to.”
“It’s just – I don’t know if after everything we can be friends after everything between us, but it wasn’t until I had to face the possibility that I’d lost you that I realized how important you are to me,” Tony exhales loudly through his nose, “If you don’t feel the same, that’d be okay too.”
The words to express exactly what’s roiling inside don’t come to Steve – but maybe it’s better that way, considering how much trouble he’s had with saying the right thing recently .
Instead he pulls Tony close and returns the kiss. The electricity surges inside him – between them – and it’s terrifying and exciting – and Steve doesn’t know how he’s lived without it before.
He certainly doesn’t know how he’s going to do without it now.
This Time It’s Ours!
By Wendy Thornton for ESPN.com
June 8th, 2018
MOSCOW, Russia – Four years ago USMNT did the unthinkable and took third place in the World Cup – the best showing that United States team had had in the competition since the very first World Cup back in 1930. This year, Stark and Rogers promise, they’re going to bring home the cup – and it looks as though they just might have a shot at it.
“I’ve put Rhodey on notice – this is the year and if – I’m sorry, when we win he’s going to have to call it soccer for the rest of his life,” Stark gleefully announces.
Rogers is much more reserved about their prospects, “I think we have a good shot this time. Our teamwork has gotten stronger – our roster really hasn’t changed from the last time we were here, but we all have more experience. So that’s in our favor.”
Indeed, the only new addition to the team roster is Peter Parker, replacing James Barnes as forward after Barnes’ shoulder was injured in cliff diving accident during the off season. Clint Barton (forward) has been promoted to co-captain of FC Bayern Munich, replacing Barnes. Johnny Storm (defense) has been on fire this season playing for Barcelona. Stark, of course, has spent the last two years playing for Real Madrid, helping win the UEFA Champions League this spring and was named the Fans’ Man of the Match.
Then there is Steve Rogers, winner of the 2015, 2016, and 2017 FIFA Ballon d’Or, captain of Manchester United and co-captain of USMNT. Rogers recently announced his plans to retire – win or lose – after the World Cup.
“I want to go out on the top of my game – sure, I could physically play until I’m well into my 30s like Beckham, but there are other things I want to do in my life and people who I want to spend it with,” Here, Rogers and Stark share a significant look between themselves, “I’ve achieved almost everything I’ve ever dreamed of in this sport, and win or lose the cup, I’m ready to start the next phase of my life.”
When asked about his plans for his life after soccer, Rogers demurs and Stark reaches out to hold his hand. The two of course also made history in 2014 as being the two highest profile gay players to come out since Justin Fashanu in an article for Vanity Fair. The pair has been rumored to be dating since after the last World Cup. Rogers and even Stark remain tightlipped about their relationship status, stating that they prefer to keep their private lives private.
“I might be looking at a property in Madrid,” Rogers smiles.