My husband and I were eating dinner at my parent’s house when the USA vs. Ghana World Cup match started. I was hurriedly scarfing down my food and not really paying attention because I still had to get ready for my own co-ed softball game.
Then, all of a sudden, the TV got really loud. Was that cheering? Is it bad that my first thought was that Ghana scored and we were already behind? Well, I was wrong. The cheering came after Clint Dempsey scored a goal in the first minute of the game. I sat there for a second and didn’t know what to think. I surprised myself by feeling a little bummed I had to leave and couldn’t watch the game. Me, so far removed from soccer that I’m not even sure what’s going in my five-year-old step-son’s soccer game. (Hint: it’s chaos).
My dad sat down on the couch to put his shoes on. He’s rarely missed a softball game of mine in 20 years, even though I’m 28 and haven’t lived at home in a long time. The words that came out of my mouth were, “If you think this game might be more exciting, by all means, stay and watch it.” He didn’t, and we all left for my softball game. After all, soccer is a low-scoring sport and that may very well have been the only excitement in 90 minutes of play.
We later heard that USA beat Ghana 2-1 and I was a little excited, but more sad that I hadn’t watched the game. But let me explain to you what kind of soccer fan I am and why those feelings are important to USA soccer.
While I can tell you what off-sides is in American football, I have no idea what that means in soccer. I can tell you all about football penalties, but I have no idea what warrants a penalty shot in soccer. I’m a bandwagon fan during the World Cup and the Olympics. I just get caught up in the American patriotism of rooting for our team. But I really have no idea what I’m watching for 90 minutes unless a ball makes it into the net. That, I am positive, is a goal. And when the big international tournaments are over, I tend to forget about soccer.
Still, I sometimes listen with interest to sports radio on my commute to work when they talk about soccer. Two things stuck out to me before the World Cup started. One of the very few names I recognize in the sport, Landon Donovan, didn’t make the team. Then I heard USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann say team USA can’t win the World Cup. I don’t know why he said that, and I don’t really care because I’m not really a fan. All I know is those are two things that a person on the margins of soccer doesn’t want to hear.
At that point, what’s in it for me? Why would I watch a team missing a recognizable player with no expectations of winning? If you “can’t win” the World Cup, then a goal of Team USA should be to find more fans and grow an interest in soccer in America. The only way to do that is to make a statement. That statement was made in the USA vs. Ghana match. A goal in the first minute, followed by a goal after Ghana tied the match in the final minutes to win, to beat a team that ousted the US in the last World Cup.
And so I sit here this morning surprised at my excitement for the next match against Portugal. That’s exactly the kind of reaction USA soccer needs to grow more interest. Interest that sparks more youth to play soccer and grow up to be the next Team USA, an even better Team USA that is expected to win.
Is it too early to teach my seven-month-old son how to kick a ball?