Once upon a time I disliked and distrusted soccer. I was one of those haters who hated for no reason that boring, effete, foreign game. Now I bleed Rave Green and rant and rave daily here on my own soccer blog.
I was raised a diehard Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies fan. My folks moved to Alaska, where I was born and raised, but took their Philly roots with them. My father told me stories of virtuous men in green as if they were the Arthurian legends. Without satellite TV and only the box scores in the back of the Anchorage Daily News’s sports page as my guide, I took his word for it. I noticed “we” rarely won, but understood that honor and effort was more important, that men like Reggie White, Randall Cunningham, and Keith Byars were the right men to cheer for.
Sports and writing have always been connected for me. One of my first writing accolades was for an essay about my experience in a sixth-grade soccer game. Don’t ever believe me if I tell you I was any good. I wasn’t fast, so always played defense and I had the coordination of a three-toed sloth. My last year playing soccer, eighth grade, we were tied in the first round of the CYSA (Chugiak Youth Sports Association) playoffs. Coach picked his first five shooters. Despite being one of the oldest boys on the team, I was not chosen. Tied again after that first round, Coach was scraping the bottom of the barrel. My pride was hurt. Sure, I never took a shot on goal, but I was 13! I deserved a chance. Coach acquiesced and put me second-to-last, where I could do the least damage.
Like most Americans, I played soccer as a kid before moving on to the real sports. That penalty kick (FYI, I iced it) was the end of my playing career, and nearly the end of my relationship with soccer. I used to travel to Germany frequently. I was in love with a girl from Dortmund, and she knew I was a diehard sports fan. In an attempt to be an awesome girlfriend, she offered to get tickets to a Borussia Dortmund game. She was trying to be welcoming of my idiosyncratic hobbies and passions, she had also taken me to Mexican restaurants in Cologne (love those plucky Germans, but that was an atrocious burrito). I laughed, “a soccer game? That’s stupid.” She didn’t understand the cultural bias, hell, I didn’t understand the cultural bias. I had taken her to a Chugiak High School football game and she enjoyed it, but I refused to attend a world-class sporting event because it was… soccer.
I finally came around living in Portland during the 2006 World Cup. My good buddy Dave and I woke early, went to Kells pub downtown, and watched the USMNT’s ignoble run. Dave, raised in a military family, had lived in Germany and Turkey, and was not cursed with an American’s disdain for soccer. He enticed me with beer for breakfast, but this soccer thing was interesting. In New York, in 2008, I saw, “After 44 years, a nation of 44 million, Spain, are kings of Europe, again!” By the next World Cup, and living in Seattle, I was hooked. I was finally cheering for a team in the city I lived in. The Sounders had burst onto the scene, more bold men in green to give my heart to.