A few weeks ago, my dad, my nephews, and I were watching the USA vs. Ghana game. My dad, ever the typical American, asked me, “What exactly is the attraction in this game? One goal has been scored in the last hour! Nothing is happening!” All I could say at the moment was, “It’s just exciting!” I had no real response. The Cup is now over, however, and I’ve had more time to ponder this question.
I had never liked soccer before the year 2000. That was the year I visited Germany for the first time and saw the passion and love Europeans have for the sport. Suddenly I saw an exciting new world that grabbed the attention of many and I could see why. With all of this in mind, however, I went back home and thought nothing more about the game for a while.
In 2008, I arrived in Berlin on the night Russia played the Netherlands in the Euro Cup. When Russia won, my brother, his wife, and I were waiting for our bus on the Kurfürstendamm. We watched as cars suddenly flooded the streets, honking their horns, people hanging out windows and flying the flag of Russia. The noise was suddenly so loud that when my dad called to ask if my brother and his wife had arrived in Germany safely, we couldn’t speak over the din. It was amazing.
For the final match of the Cup in 2008, we were in Salzburg, Austria, and gathered with thousands of others at a public viewing in the city center to watch Spain take on Germany. People came, cheered, drank, talked to friends, and had a great time.
Fast forward another year-and-a-half, and I’m back in the United States. For the most part, I have never bothered to turn the TV on to any sport in the history of my life, soccer included. I suddenly decide one day, however, to tune into a game. What soccer should I watch? Something about Great Britain seems to be synonymous with the sport, so I decide on Premier League Football. I get somewhat into it and watch a few matches. Life gets busy again, however, and soccer takes another seat in the background.
Then the World Cup came along…
I have no idea what happened, but I decided I was going to follow Germany. After all…I might be American, but the USA really has no claim to fame when it comes to the sport. I’ll watch their games when I get the chance, but I won’t plan my schedule around it. Technically, they were my top team, but I also knew they weren’t going far, so I held to Germany as my only hope.
Then, Landon Donovan scored the winning goal against Algeria in overtime. I wasn’t watching, and I was kicking myself for it. I saw as an entire nation, MY nation, united for the first time in years, and before I knew it I was promising my friends on Facebook that my firstborn would be named for this epic player. Americans have become so disconnected over the topics of politics and heated issues of how to deal with the economy, healthcare, terror, and more, that we didn’t see eye to eye on almost anything. One group of us disliked President Bush and one group of us dislikes President Obama so passionately that we have become almost two countries forced to live under the policies of one. Mr. Landon Donovan, however, united a divided nation, and I suddenly started seeing things like this.
The USA went on to lose in the next round, but I was excited to be American once again. Once we were out of the game, I still had Germany to fall back on and continued to follow them all the way to Third Place. I laughed and cheered with them all the way there, and then I pouted just a little too much when they finally lost.
So in retrospect, what is it about this sport that’s so great? Why do we love soccer so much? I think it’s a simple matter of the passion and emotion of the game, backed by its fans. As I cried and cheered, watching Germany in the final stages, I felt a unity with others. I experienced an excitement and passion in those around me like never before…
…and I became one of them.
So yes, the World Cup is indeed over. Neither of my teams won, but the USA and Germany have won a fan who will be true until the end. So it is with a continued excitement and a tinge of sadness that I now say: Congratulations Spain…but don’t get used to it.