The field is too big, the players don’t score enough and the acting is so bad it might as well be an open audition for Days of Our Lives. Soccer is the world’s game, but it sure isn’t mine.
Why do I hate soccer? Because I’m an American. A steak-grillin’, Monday-Night-Football-watchin’, red-white-and-blue-blooded American. I have values, and they involve touchdowns, jump shots and the occasional grand slam.
The World Cup? I’m not going to watch the World Cup. I have better things to do. Like count the bumps on the ceiling or pick the dirt out from under my fingernails.
It was a lazy summer afternoon. The type where you spend more time thinking about what to do than actually doing something. Perhaps it was the flashy graphics or catchy African music that sucked me in. Perhaps, ironically enough, the only other thing to watch was the daily soap operas. Perhaps it was simply fate. Either way, I found myself watching the World Cup.
Going against my fundamental American values, I became enraptured by the spirit of the Beautiful Game. I watched as the U.S. barely nudged out England. I screamed as refs called back would-be goals. I shouted in triumph every time the ball struck mesh off an American foot. Call it impossible, but I became a soccer fan. I still wasn’t ready to paint my chest and light off some flares in the stadium, but I wasn’t opposed to the idea either.
I suppose I didn’t become a soccer fan because of the game itself. The teams still scored too little, the field was still too big and players still flopped like freshly cooked noodles. No, I wasn’t drawn to soccer because of its rules. I was drawn to soccer because of its idea.
The idea that one goal, one tiny blip on the scoreboard could change someone’s life or that a ball and 11 players could bring a country together. The raw emotion that soccer creates exemplifies perfectly why I love sports.
I was home alone on the day my views towards soccer and sports in general changed forever. The U.S. was playing Algeria in the final match of pool play. It was do or die for our country. One goal, one lousy goal, was all it took for us to move into the next round. There was no one there to commiserate with me when the refs yet again called back a goal for the U.S. All I had was a pillow to let out my frustration, so I chucked it at the T.V.
Ninety minutes came and went with no goal. Three short minutes were tacked onto the clock. Just three minutes to decide between U.S. soccer history or bitter disappointment.
I was no longer enjoying the comforts of the family room leather couch. I was standing two feet away from the T.V., my eyes glued to the screen, my fists clinched in anticipation.
That’s when it happened. In the 92nd minute, with almost no time to spare, Landon Donovan finally scored to send the U.S. into the next round.
I was all by myself but it didn’t matter. I sunk to my knees in jubilation. For some reason, I was overcome with emotion. In the moments between nearly tearing up and getting goosebumps from watching Donovan slide to the corner of the field, I remember thinking incredulously, What’s so special about soccer?
In hindsight, I should have rephrased the question to What’s so special about sports? I realized that the emotion of sports transcends the type of sport. Every competition can have an underdog win in the final seconds. Every sport can have a moment that brings a nation together in celebration.
I’ll admit, I’m still not the biggest soccer fan. I can’t rattle of the stats of last night’s Manchester United game, I won’t change the channel to watch an MLS game and I certainly won’t defend a sport that lets its players fake their way into a win. But, I will be the first to say that my ultimate sports memory came from a soccer game. Because I believe that sports moments can come from anywhere. Even the unlikeliest of places.