Until yesterday I had played, but never watched, soccer. Like several other kids growing up in the 80s I was part of a parks and rec league, and when I lived in the hippie theme park that is also sometimes called Eugene, Oregon I played the game with my Ultimate Frisbee team when we weren’t playing Ultimate Frisbee. So, I’d kicked balls plenty. I’d run around plenty. I knew the basics of the game, but I’d never been a fan. Yesterday I watched my first soccer game. I watched the US take on Portugal and play to a tragic, last-minute draw. It was amazing, invigorating, and I think I might be a soccer fan now. A few observations:
-Soccer’s low-scoring nature is a feature, not a bug. When the ball does finally go in, it’s either a triumph or tragedy, depending on circumstances, and every single goal matters. When the ball grazes near the goal an air of suspense (either for something good or bad) takes over the watcher and soccer, moreso than many other sports, becomes a game of suspense.
-I saw the US game in a soccer bar and unironically chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A” with a collection of strangers after a goal is, dare I say it, fun. It’s always fun to be part of something larger than yourself. The cynical part of me knows that that feeling is also where nationalism and all of its ugliness comes from, but it’s great in a contained space.
-It’s kind of great to see the US as the underdog. We win at all kinds of things on a regular basis like, you know, Cold Wars and defeating facism and going to the moon. Being in a position where the US is just one team among many and really has to earn its seat at the table is new, interesting, and probably mentally good for a country which tends to be fairly arrogant about basically everything.
-Soccer players are really, really handsome. These are guys who run around all the time, so naturally they’re fit, and they’re not bulky like football players or gangly like basketball players. They’re toned, proportional, and tend to have fashionable haircuts. They are by far the most good-looking of sports guys.
-The World Cup’s ranking system is interesting. Instead of being knocked out of a game due to a loss, teams advancement or nonadvancement depends on their relative status within a group. That seems like a far more dynamic way to rank and quantify teams than just single elimination.
-Soccer scarves make fans look like Harry Potters or Doctor Whos and I’m fine with that.
-Given how great watching soccer can be I’m now extra-distraught that FIFA is kind of evil.
-Seeing a team you support tie is weird. I’m used to watching teams I like win or lose, but when I saw the US tie I really didn’t know what to think. It was new and weird and a fairly interesting emotional place to be.
-I really want to go to a Portland Timbers game now.
I will definitely be watching again, and will probably feel appropriately crushed when the US inevitably loses. In the meantime, I’ll be squinting at 538’s World Cup coverage and hoping that the improbable happens.