My personal relationship with soccer is complicated. I was raised in a family where my immediate relatives referred to soccer as “comi-kickball” (as in communist kickball). I’m not exactly sure why they called soccer this because the vast majority of soccer players are not communist, nor did the sport originate under a Marxist regime. I think that soccer seemed foreign to them, and must therefore be communist.
The most baffling part of my family’s decided bias against soccer is that my family is a sports family. My relatives are baseball, basketball, American football, and hockey fans with an appreciation for anything generally athletic or Olympic…except soccer.
What’s even stranger about the whole situation is that we lived in St. Louis, MO. St. Louis is a predominantly Catholic city and has long been one of the strongholds of youth soccer in the United States. As a high school soccer player I played against some of the best club and high school teams in the nation. My team played against the number one ranked high school team in the nation my junior year (a private Catholic school in St. Louis).
My personal love for soccer however began some 13,000 miles away from St. Louis in the Southern Philippines. Surprisingly, Filipinos are not great lovers of soccer. Filipinos love all things basketball. My relatives who lived in the Philippines, however, are ardent soccer fans.
The first soccer match I can ever remember watching (in my entire life) was on the beach in Cagayan De Oro on a crappy little television. It was a 1998 World Cup Brazilian game. I don’t remember whom they played, but I remember a short, stout, and unnaturally fast Ronaldo scoring an electrifying goal. I was hooked.
I ended up falling completely in love with the game of soccer and grew up playing every chance I got. Because we lived in a relatively remote portion of the world, the first chance I had to play organized soccer was my freshman year of high school. I played all four years and loved every minute of it.
I still love all sports. As a fan, I follow baseball most closely. As an athlete, I play basketball most often. But as a lover of all things athletic, I most anticipate the World Cup.
Whether you think fútbol is God’s gift to man or you fall into the “comi-kickball” camp, I would suggest you carve out a little bit of time over the next few weeks to watch planet Earth’s greatest sporting spectacle.
The following are 3 reasons to watch the World Cup and 3 reasons that your reasons for not watching aren’t good reasons at all.
3 reasons to watch
1. Soccer is actually the most beautiful game. This is the go-to descriptor of soccer, and fittingly so. Basketball and hockey are also beautiful sports, but basketball and hockey have fewer players on smaller fields of play with more stoppages and timeouts breaking the flow of the game. No other sport boasts such a continuous flow of play, on such a large field, with as many people working and thinking together. If you are a fan of dance (ballet, jazz, etc.) watch a World Cup match from a dancer’s perspective. A 90-minute soccer match with the best players in the world is a thing of absolute beauty.
2. It’s really good to engage other cultures. Nothing brings such a vast array of cultures, races, and religions together quite like the World Cup. This is one of the true foundational purposes of athletics. Asians will play Europeans. Europeans will play Africans. Africans will play South Americans. South Americans will play Middle Easterners. Each national team will bring with them nuances in their specific styles and systems of play. Each team will bring unique fan bases with unique cheers. Each team will bring realistic goals and impossible dreams. I suggest trying to eat food from one of the nations playing the games that you choose to watch. This would be an awesome exercise.
Yesterday morning I went to a new doctor’s office to establish myself as a patient. My nurse was from Ghana. Upon that discovery we launched into a detailed and passionate conversation about the upcoming USA vs. Ghana match. One question of origin and an easy friendship made. The World Cup is truly the World’s cup whether you are in an African town or a Philadelphia suburb.
3. Soccer is fantastic at providing both individual superstars and overachieving teams. Included in the many, many interesting story lines that will emerge in the coming weeks of competition will be the success and failure of individual stars and the impossible (but inevitable) upsets. Perhaps only March Madness can deliver a similar experience to sports fans. But March Madness is on an amateur level, takes place every year, and is limited to one nation. The greatest soccer players on earth will be competing against each other on the world’s stage for the first time in four years, from every qualifying nation. Brilliant.
3 reasons why your 3 reasons to not watch are not good reasons
1. The USA can’t win. You may be feeling that it’s pointless to watch the World Cup because the US doesn’t have a good team and can’t win the whole thing.
Everything about this thinking is flawed. The US will not win the World Cup and there is a good chance they won’t even get out of their group. So what?! The World Cup is still amazing and worth engaging whether or not the US MNT does anything noteworthy at all.
The USA, however, will be sending their most talented squad (in the history of US soccer) to Brazil. They have the most competent coach they have ever had. They may be beat out in their group by any of the other three teams, but it is not impossible for them to advance to the round of 16. If they can advance, anything can happen.
2. I’m not a huge soccer fan, or even sports fan, and I don’t know a thing about it or where to start.
Don’t worry. In the coming weeks the Mothership (ESPN) will be catering to your every need. They will have a billion minutes of overblown explanation and coverage of each game. Every superstar worth noting will be endlessly (and, if you are a fan, somewhat annoyingly) pointed out to you again and again.
Because there will be so many games on you may not know where to start. I suggest picking the nation you are originally from or currently live, the nation your heritage hails from, and the nation you would most like to visit. Find out when each of these teams play, and follow their progress throughout the opening round. Try and watch each of them one time. If you do this, I promise you that you will find yourself passionately interested in the progress of at least one of them.
3. Soccer is just a trend in America.
I’m so tired of hearing this lame statement. Soccer isn’t going anywhere, and it shouldn’t. Don’t worry soccer won’t be replacing Monday Night Football any time soon, but it is also not trendy. And I’m not trendy for being a soccer fan. I love the sport, just as I love many other sports.
If you feel this way, it is time to get over yourself. The World Cup is incredible and it will be a LONG time until you get another chance to enjoy it.
Feel free to post your own reasons for watching the World Cup.