Well, my beloved NBA season is but a memory now, and NFL football is still months away. I don’t really care about major league baseball, and so I seek something to quench my sports thirst. What could be a better event to do so than the World Cup? Once every four years it comes around, and makes us all pay attention to a sport that we normally couldn’t care less about. I’m not quite as big of a bandwagon jumper as others, as I watched several qualifying games for the US the last couple years, but I still am really only a half-hearted soccer fan.
My father played soccer for North Park College back before soccer was really an intercollegiate sport. They were just a club team, and since it wasn’t the NCAA, they just played all the other club teams in the area. His greatest sports accomplishments in life were having an undefeated season, and also beating Notre Dame’s club team 1-0. So when I was young, my dad shared his love of soccer with my brother and I, and I absolutely loved the game. I got to play in a youth soccer league from 2nd grade until 7th grade, and those were some great years of playing the game. This was a pretty crappy youth soccer league, since it was being run by a bunch of volunteers that didn’t know the game in southcentral Minnesota, where football was the known fall sport. So my dad kind of had the strategic advantage over other coaches, but our family also would get frustrated about the lack of fouls being called. I was even more in awe of my dad when he was the MVP of the annual coaches vs. all stars game (for the oldest division, not little 2nd graders) by scoring 4 goals, and the local paper referred to him as Scott “Pele” Christensen. When our family moved to northern Minnesota before my 8th grade year, there was no longer any soccer options other than gym class, and so my interests shifted almost completely to basketball. I finally got to be reborn, so to speak, as a soccer player when I took a soccer gym class my senior year of college. It helped me fall back in love with the game, and it taught me a lot. I really felt like I improved throughout the course.
American sports like the NFL and the NBA have always been my favorites to follow, and since the MLS gets hardly any coverage in this country, it’s kind of hard to be a die-hard soccer fan, unless you live in a city that has a team. Besides, the best soccer being played in the world is overseas, and wouldn’t we want to see the best in the world if we’re going to watch a sport? That’s part of what makes the NFL and the NBA so appealing. But now with the UEFA champions league, and ESPN’s commitment to cover it, it’s getting easier to be a soccer fan in this country. I’ve taken in a few of these games, and I enjoy them. But the World Cup, is something completely different, and I believe it’s the most special international competition in the world. The Olympics are full of too many boring sports that nobody cares about, and until recently, FIBA has been dominated too much by the US. But soccer always has great parity, and the FIFA World Cup is full of passion and great moments. I watched all 3 of the USA’s group stage games, and I found that there was never a dull moment. I don’t understand when people complain about soccer not having enough scoring. I’ll admit that the most exciting times are when goals are scored, but in most games, there are probably 5-10 good scoring chances per half, that lead to edge-of-your-seat moments. And when a team finally breaks through and scores, it’s pure jubilation. If you missed team USA’s last two group stage games, you missed some fantastic soccer that was far more exciting than any of the NBA Finals games, and this is coming from a big NBA fan. Soccer also brings that different atmosphere than most sports. Where else can you hear those wonderful vuvuzelas? And where else could you end up getting stabbed in a riot of hooligan fans after a controversial game? These fans bring it for their teams.
Anyhow, team USA got lucky against England, played poorly, came back, and then got robbed against Slovenia, and then played well, got robbed again, and came through anyhow against Algeria, and now we could be poised to make a decent run in the knockout stage of the tournament. If the US can only be more composed in the early goings of these games and not let up early goals, I think we could make the semifinals, but then, we’d most likely face Brazil, who has been my pick to win it all, all along. Who knows what could happen? But this Saturday, I’ll be ready to explode off of my couch again, as the soccer action will be as captivating as ever. And even if the US does end up going down early to Ghana, I’ll still be watching as much of the knockout stage as possible. I only wish this came along more often than every four years. What am I gonna watch for sports the next three summers? Baseball? Now there’s a boring sport.