Soccer and I have a long and twisted relationship. I started playing when I was 4 years old, but I didn’t really get into the World Cup until I was much older. Through basic kid’s rec leagues, competitive traveling squads and one year in high school, I thought it was about the best thing in my life. I remember summers spent at soccer camp, and even getting rides home from some professional players. No idea how my parents pulled that off.
Since there wasn’t much soccer on TV back then, I devoured video tapes of European teams and competitions. We had season tickets to the local NASL (North American Soccer League) franchise, The San Diego Sockers. My dad even took me to the finals of the ’84 Olympics at the Rose Bowl.
Then I got stuck with Coach K.
I was a freshman in high school, but playing for the varsity team at left fullback. I didn’t start every game that year, but enough that I didn’t feel like I was a permanent benchwarmer. I got along with my teammates too. But something wasn’t right.
This was over two decades ago, so I’m trying to piece together exactly what it was about him that I didn’t like. Maybe it was because he felt pressure as the new coach—the previous year’s coach retired after winning the CIF championship. Maybe it was because he wasn’t a very good teacher. Maybe it was because I just expected more from that level of play. Maybe it was because at one of the games, against kids I knew from past teams, he convinced us to join in on a brawl that started from a clumsy tackle.
Whatever it was, I quit after one season. Done. Never to play competitive soccer again. I swam for a bit and played a little water polo, but mostly I just surfed and skated. Soccer had lost its place in my heart.
After that, there’s a huge gap in my memories of international competitions. We still went to soccer games after the NASL folded and the local team went indoors, but that was just for fun. The sporting events I watched on TV were what you’d expect: Football, Baseball, Basketball… even some Olympics. However, I don’t remember watching a World Cup until ’98 when Zinedine Zidane became the hero that could do no wrong. Even then, I just watched the US games and the final; but it sparked something back in me.
Since then, I have a lot of memories from watching the World Cup. Some are excellent, some horrendous, but all are vivid.
2002 – Ronaldhino’s ridiculous 40-yard lob. The Italians getting robbed by the refs against South Korea. Turkey’s 10-second goal. But best of all, waking up with my girlfriend at four in the morning, stopping at 7-11 for eggs and bacon on the way to a friend’s house and downing tequila shots as the US won dos a cero to get to the quarterfinals.
2006 – I had started played adult rec soccer the year before, so I was all hyped up heading into this bitter tournament. Italians, Italians, Italians. McBride’s face. Relentless flopping. Materazzi goading Zidane into one of soccer’s most famous meltdowns (commemorated by the statue at the top of this post), costing the Frenchman that hero stature for everyone outside of France. Man, I hated the Italian team so much that it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I even broke up with a girl recently because she was going to cheer for Italy this year. Screw that. I might call her again in a month or so. Oh, and can’t forget the origin story of Ghanian Kryptonite.
2010 – I watched this World Cup in Alaska. I wasn’t in the most comfortable situation at the time, but the tournament helped keep me sane for at least a month. You’d be surprised at the number of soccer fans in Anchorage, and the enthusiasm they show when watching. It’s like they’re all giddy that someone else in the state even knows what soccer is. Who can forget the incessant buzzing of the Vuvuzela? We were renting a furnished apartment, and I could not BELIEVE that the sound of the included tv would be that screwed up. A tie against England? Inconceivable. Forlan’s golden locks were glorious. GHANA AGAIN? And that winner in the final by Iniesta: what a brilliant shot.
So here’s 2014. The US is in arguably one of the two hardest groups in the tournament. All I see right now, however, is Ghana. I wake in a sweat and all the stars around me are black.
As you can see, I’m back in soccer. I’m playing for the bar team, coaching my kid at the Y and loading up the DVR with everything on BeIN and FSC. I’m impressed at how far soccer has come in this country. When I started playing, everything was about team building, fair play and orange slices. Soccer was looked down upon—a sport for kids with no athletic future. Even competitive team players played with a sort of innocence that said “hey, it’s just a game. I’ll probably play football when I’m older.” Now it’s getting better, and hopefully after this World Cup, there will be a lot fewer kids that will drop out because of something stupid their coach said once upon a time.
Featured image courtesy of: Christian Hartmann/Reuters
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