I played soccer (football for those of you outside the US and Canada) maybe two years in my youth. Several things were working against me. For one, I lived in small-town East Texas. Football (American football for those of you outside the US and Canada) was and still is king. Another thing keeping me from soccer stardom was my skill. I stunk! I was so bad with my feet the coach had no choice but to put me in goal. So most of my career was spent standing around watching balls fly past me into the net. That was another thing, our team was terrible.
It wasn’t until the US hosted the World Cup in 1994 that my interest in the game rekindled. I played (in goal again!) for an intramural team one year in college. We weren’t half bad, and I managed to stop a few of the balls flying at me. Every four years since that World Cup my interest has grown. After the 2006 World Cup I decided I should start paying attention to the sport outside of the quadrennial event. The internet helped me keep up with the USMNT and the several US players spread around the world. At the time interest in the domestic league was low. That would change, but in 2006 I was mostly following the national team and its members. One member in particular caught my eye. A fellow East Texan, who found a way to excel at the sport even where football reigned, made his first World Cup appearance in 2006, scoring the only goal of the tournament for the US. Before the end of the year Clint Dempsey was offered a spot on the English Premier League club Fulham. My interest in the EPL was piqued.
A year after the 2006 World Cup I moved to Eugene, OR. Just up the road a couple of hours there was talk of Portland getting an MLS team. For those interested in soccer this bit of news was pretty exciting. I was thinking an Oregon MLS team might give me reason to follow the domestic league more closely. By 2009 the Portland Timbers had arrived. So between 2006 and 2009 I was beginning to follow club leagues more than I had in the past. But still my strongest loyalties were to the national team. 2010, then, was the year all of my soccer fanaticism (little as it was) reached a head. The Timbers were in full swing, the USMNT got out of the group stage of the World Cup in South Africa, and I began to play fantasy football, which heightened my awareness of the EPL.
Since 2010 I’ve been to a couple of the Timbers games, I’ve followed the coaching change in the national team, and I’ve improved my fantasy football coaching prowess. The thing that has raised my interest the most, however, is having a little boy who is interested in soccer. Alexander, one of my nearly-six-year-old twins, took an interest in sports early on. I think part of it was his interest in the colors and numbers and running around on the television. It was not just soccer he liked to watch, but it was what I was watching the most, so naturally he became interested. He chose Chelsea as his favorite team. At the time he liked blue a lot. Chelsea, thus, has become my favorite team. He’s excited about this weekend. The EPL and some other European leagues begin on Saturday. I’m sure he’ll ask to see the iPad so he can track scores. Last year he looked at scores and tables from every league he could find. He would then create imaginary games between the fourth place La Liga team and the third place Bundesliga team in our family room. So I am excited for this weekend too. I feel like we are building moments I’ll cherish for a long time.
I am also excited about the state of the national team. They are building moments American soccer fans will not soon forget. Yesterday’s come-from-behind victory over a higher ranked Bosnia and Herzegovina extended the USMNT’s record winning streak to 12, saw Jozy Altidore become the first American player to score in five straight matches (and he did it with a hat trick!), and was the first time the US had come from behind on European soil. See the highlights below:
My only regret was that I didn’t get to watch the match with Alex. There’s always next summer’s World Cup in Brazil. I’m hoping history is made in more ways than one.