In the run-up to Sunday afternoon's Gold Cup quarterfinal against Jamaica, the decision by manager Bob Bradley to give star midfielders Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey leave to attend the weddings of their respective sisters was nothing more than a curiosity, an eyebrow-raiser tempered by the promise that both men would return in plenty of time to play their part in front of a sold-out RFK Stadium.
Then the team sheets were passed out to the media one hour before the 3:00 kick-off. Dempsey would start, but Donovan was relegated to the bench for the first time in his U.S. career since 2007. Suddenly the trepidation was almost tactile, and there was no doubt what the main talking point would be should the U.S. suffer a shock defeat.
As it turned out, Dempsey -- who got into D.C. from Texas at 2 a.m. Sunday after watching his sister Crystal get married in Texas on Saturday -- looked as fresh as a daisy, playing the whole 90 minutes and making life a nightmare for both the Jamaican defense and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. Dempsey even managed to score the clinching goal in the U.S.'s 2-0 win, which went a long way towards burying the memories of this missed sitter against Guadeloupe earlier in the tournament, and he could have scored two or three more without the brave interventions of Ricketts.
"I was going, regardless," Dempsey told reporters after the match when asked to discuss the wedding. "It's good that Bob has an understanding. He knows that family is important, and now I'm ready to go out and work hard." Dempsey later revealed that after Saturday's ceremony, his family laid Crystal's wedding bouquet at the grave of his older sister Jennifer, who died of a brain aneurysm in November 1995 at the age of 16.
"You try to set as high a bar as you can," said U.S. manager Bob Bradley when he was asked, no doubt for the last time, about his decision to let Donovan and Dempsey slip away. "But sometimes you have to weigh things." Bradley then revealed to the assembled media that when he had gotten married in June 1986, he had planned on having his younger brother Scott -- at the time a utility player for the New York Yankees -- be the best man. But four months before the wedding, Scott was traded to the Chicago White Sox, throwing the plans of both brothers into turmoil.
"I told him, 'Look, you need to be with your team,'" said Bradley, who at the time was Princeton University's head soccer coach. "That's what I did. That doesn't mean it's right for someone else. There's a give and take, and you always try to do what's best for the team."
Of course, it wouldn't have been Father's Day at RFK without a tribute from someone. That someone turned out to be Jermaine Jones, who snapped off a crisp salute after his 49th-minute goal put the U.S. on top 1-0. Jones was born in Germany, the son of an African-American soldier, and spent part of his youth living in Chicago and Mississippi before returning to Germany with his mother after his parents divorced. As a result, those in the former batting cage that currently serves as a press room in the bowels of RFK Stadium were treated to the incongruous site of a U.S. senior international answering questions in German. The answers were helpfully translated by teammate Steve Cherundolo, who's picked up a fair bit of the language in his time at German club Hannover 96, where he's played since 1999.
"It was his way of honoring his father," Cherundolo said in translating Jones' statements. "It was a nice little gift to his father."
And with that, the extended family of the U.S. national team marched on to Houston and a semifinal revenge date against Panama.