Steven Beitashour sat in the middle of a sports bar on Melrose in the early afternoon on Monday. The World Cup has a way of bringing people to places you’d least expect. He wasn’t alone though. Nearly a hundred Iranian supporters joined the LAFC defender. And like Beitashour, they were unable to look away.
Had things been different, Beitashour would have been the one they all were watching. But soccer is funny like that sometimes.
As luck would have it, and with LAFC’s training session canceled after a win over the Columbus Crew 2-0 on Saturday, Beitashour took in Iran’s match with Portugal just like the others that had joined LAFC’s World Cup watch party at The Parlor in Hollywood. And just like the other Iranians, Beitashour lived and died with every moment.
“It was a rollercoaster,” Beitashour said after the match.
Needing a win – or some serious help from Morocco in its match with Spain – the Iranian National Team was in search of its first passage to the knockout round of a World Cup. In its way, Portugal and the world’s best player Ronaldo (sorry, Messi fans).
And for just over 44 minutes, Team Melli had Portugal frustrated.
Then came the wondergoal. Ricardo Quaresma silenced the watch party crowd with the flexion of his right foot. Iran went into halftime a goal down. And eight minutes into the second half, it looked like things might get a whole lot worse.
Ronaldo won his team a penalty after the referee deemed he was fouled following intervention from Video Assistant Referee. He stepped up to take the subsequent kick from the spot, and slowly the chant of “Iran, Iran” began again from the other side of the sports bar.
“The Iranians are very proud. They stick together,” Beitashour said of the moment.
And as luck would have it, the best player in the world missed.
The crowd in the Parlor rose to its feet. A wail of sheer optimism echoed from the walls over and over as Iran, buoyed by the penalty save, continued to pour forward in search of a goal. Beitashour, who had sat mostly quietly and unperturbed in the first half, was now chatting more and more with the surrounding supporters. They’d waited patiently to speak to the Iranian international at halftime, but now they couldn’t help share their thoughts and worries as time ticked away.
“That’s true Iranian passion. Everyone is watching the game. They might have seen me before, but there are like ‘No, no. We are watching the game. And he’s watching the game,’” Beitashour said of how focus the crowd was on the match. “Even for me, I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to watch the game. But they have the same mentality. We’re all rooting for our team, we all want to watch the game, and at halftime, we can talk and get together to take pictures.”
Then with just a minute remaining in the 90, the breakthrough. This time, VAR was on Iran’s side, as Cédric Soares was ruled to have handled the ball in the penalty area. Iran’s No. 10 Karim Ansarifard stepped to the spot.
Beitashour and his fellow supporters came to their feet once more.
Before the ball hit the back of the net, for a split second it felt like the entirety of the oxygen had left the building. Sucked up by the collective gasp coming from those inside The Parlor as Ansarifard struck the ball, it returned with a sonic boom as the shouts of joy reached their climax. Beitashour joined them, giving hugs and high fives to any takers.
As you probably already know, in the end, Iran’s time narrowly ran out though. Ronaldo would be moving on, the Iranians going home. But not before Iran took a point off him and probably made the world’s best wonder if his missed penalty might be the difference in the other direction.
“Heartbreak in the end. That final chance at the end, I think we all thought we were going to finish it to put us through,” Beitashour said. “But you know, that’s the sport. You got to hit the shot, you got to make it. Unfortunately, the ball didn’t bounce the right way for us this time.
“But it was a great effort by the team. They should be proud. The 82 million Iranians are all proud of them back home. We have to keep our heads up.”
Beitashour made the rounds once again following the match. He stopped for a chat with comedian Maz Jobrani, a fellow Iranian-American there to watch the match with his family. He took pictures and signed autographs. Many of the supporters told him just how close the team was, others saying he should have been there.
“Typically, I’d be on my couch in front of my TV. Quiet, with nothing else going on. But this was a special occasion,” Beitashour said when asked about how he’d watched Iran’s previous two World Cup matches.
“It was the final game of the group stage. It could have gotten us through to the next round or it could have been our final game. I think it was something nice to come out for the community, for all the Iranians out here, and show them that I am here. A lot of them don’t yet know that I play for LAFC, that I am in LA playing for a big Club. I think now that they see that I am here, hopefully the word will get out and I’ll see them on gamedays.”
Just before he left, a final pair of Iranian fans approached Beitashour, a father and a son. The father told the LAFC defender that his son played the same position. Then smiled.
“He’ll be challenging you in the Iran National Team in three years,” the man said, pointing to his son while sharing a laugh with Beitashour.
“Four years. Make it four,” Beitashour said in reply.
He’s not quite ready to watch another World Cup in a sports bar just yet.