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Devastated By U.S. World Cup Team's First-Round Loss, Nation Grinds To Halt

NEW YORK, LOS ANGELES, and WASHINGTON, DC—With the Dow Jones average down over 600 points, factory productivity in a downward spiral, and workplace attendance down by nearly a third, experts say the U.S. World Cup team's heartbreaking 3-0 defeat at the hands of Czech Republic on Monday has brought life across the soccer-crazed nation to a virtual standstill.

"What happened in Gelsenkirchen has indeed dealt a grievous blow to the morale of the American people," said President Bush, who had promised his constituency a swift and speedy victory in the World Cup this year and whose popularity has taken a 9 percent hit since the U.S. team's loss. "I want the citizens of this great nation, the world's only remaining superpower, to know that I grieve alongside them and urge them to be strong in our hour of darkness, and urge them to return to their jobs and schools despite their heavy hearts."

Mere days ago, the feeling across the nation was one of great joy, eager anticipation, and optimism for the prospects of the most talented American team to ever take the field. It is estimated that over 85 percent of U.S. households were watching the USA–Czech Republic matchup. And going into the game that most Americans have been waiting for, analyzing, and all but living for during the past four years, schools, offices, shopping centers—everything, in fact, except vital services—closed their doors as the game began.

Now, days after the end of penalty time, many of those doors are still closed.

"I take full responsibility for losing the game," said Claudio Reyna, whose shot off the crossbar of the Czech goal as the U.S. trailed 1-0 in the opening half of play has been shown to coincide with a significant bump in the suicide rate, a momentary increase in reports of domestic violence, and a $0.45 increase in the per-gallon price of gasoline. "But we still have games to play in this opening round. I realize that the United States, more than any other country, loves this game. But that is no reason for so many people to cancel their weddings."

The general feeling of hopelessness may be felt across the United States, the nation the rest of the world thinks of as Pelé's adopted home, the land that popularized the term "soccer," and Americans are finding many different ways to voice their despair.

Hundreds of yards of black bunting hung over the head and arms of the Statue of Liberty has yet to be removed by the New York City Parks Department; similar shrouds have appeared on Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Hawaii's Pearl Harbor Memorial. Las Vegas casinos are running skeleton staffs at the tables and doubling the size of security shifts, at once worrying over their empty floors and fearing retribution at the hands of World Cup gamblers who bet on the U.S. out of loyalty. And the House of Representatives, which traditionally remains closed throughout the World Cup, called a special session for the specific purpose of introducing a bipartisan bill that would change America's national sport back to baseball.

"This cannot last," said Bruce Arena, coach of the U.S. World Cup team and by extension effectively the second-most powerful man in America, in an address televised simultaneously on every national channel Wednesday night. "We cannot have crops unharvested in the fields, the doors of our churches sealed shut, the Stars and Stripes fixed at half-mast, all because of our dishonorable standard of play. We cannot ask you to forgive our loss to the Czechs, as that must be left to the wisdom of the God of our fathers. We have always been a nation blessed with strength, not only in our love for our soccer teams, but in our love for one another, and we must call on both now if we are to endure these dark days."

At press time, the U.S. team is scheduled to play Italy on Saturday and Ghana the following Thursday, and the National Guard has reported moderate casualties while attempting to contain hooligan activity in the nine largest U.S. cities.

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