Somewhere on some hard drive in some basement in central Florida, there’s footage of me crying. I’ve only been on the Jumbotron once in my life, and it was when I was 5 or 6, attending my first soccer game. About 60 or 70 minutes through, the camera guy directly in front of me laughed, wheeled this massive lens around towards me, and next thing I knew my face was plastered on a screen in front of thousands of people. Why? Because I was crying.
It wasn’t that my team was losing. In fact, I don’t remember who was playing or even what league it was. I was crying because no one was scoring. Thus was born my hatred for soccer.
Throughout all of high school, I would make fun of my soccer-crazy friend Lora, taunting her with “we have hands and arms for a reason” and “soccer is for Europeans” and every other cliché I believed to be an original thought. I was an American, and there was no way I was ever going to care about soccer.
Fast forward to June 23rd, 2010. It was a Wednesday, and I was on my computer working to wrap up the school year. I ended up on ESPN, and discovered that the US men’s team was one win away from advancing to the knockout stage of the World Cup. While I didn’t know what that meant, I did know that I’m an American and this was the American team, and since I could stream that afternoon’s game against Algeria for free, I decided to pull it up on my second monitor as I worked on something else.
The game lived up to every expectation I had ever had, namely, no one scored. Lots of running and kicking, a goal called back, a flop or two, but nothing else. And that wouldn’t do. While the match itself could end in a tie, if the US didn’t win, they would be eliminated. Again, I wasn’t sure how all of that worked, but I’m an American, so I was mad.
As the game trudged along, I got more and more frustrated. This is why soccer is dumb! Who the heck would want to watch this? Why am I even watching this? Oh right, because I’m an American. But I was a very frustrated American and I couldn’t wait to go back to caring about football.
And then it happened.
With less than 4 minutes left, Algeria shot a header directly at US Goalie Tim Howard. He caught the ball, launched it upfield to the feet of Landon Donovan who led the counterattack, laying it off to Jozy Altidore who crossed it in to Clint Dempsey…only to have the shot blocked (again) by Algeria’s goalie. The ball dribbled away from the the keepers hands, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, Donovan flew into frame and buried a shot in the back of the net.
I lost my mind, jumping up and down and screaming. With that one play we won the game, and in that moment, I finally got it. The intensity of soccer isn’t about lots of goals – it’s about the fact that ONE goal can decide the game, and that goal can come at any moment.
I feel like I should tie this into some greater life lesson, but this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, so I’m not going to. Suffice it to say, I’ve been a soccer fan ever since!