My experience with soccer is very limited.  I vaguely remember playing in P.E. as an elementary school kid, but that had to be less than four total times.  I tried to watch on Univision a few times because I loved the way the guy yelled "Gooooooooooooooooaaaaaal!!!" whenever a goal was scored.


Crazy, right?!  He was so excited.  It would be so exciting to see the goal and then hear the call.  Unfortunately for me, I would never see a goal scored live. I would lose interest after a few minutes and change the channel.  Or, even worse, I would lose interest while the game was on and find out that a goal had been scored by hearing the announcer yelling "Goooooooooooooooaaaaaal!!!"  Then the replay but the magic is gone by then.  Just my luck.  The few times in my life that I did see a goal scored live, I would go crazy.  Even as an adult.  It is one of the better feelings in the sports-watching experience.  Right up there with a devastating knockout (boxing/MMA), a kickoff/punt return for a touchdown (American football) or a game-winning basket as the buzzer goes off (basketball).

To get into soccer, what I needed was to either play or find a team to follow.  I tell that to my friends here who are completely disinterested in "American" football.  I swear to them that it's the best sport.  But to a first-time watcher it's just big dudes pushing each other around for five seconds and then stopping for 20 seconds and then a bunch of commercials.  But when I got some friends to play some football; with me as the "all-time quarterback" (throwing the ball for both teams), they had a good time.  It wasn't as silly of a sport as they thought.  And if they had half of the passion for the Miami Dolphins that I have, they'd be screaming at the TV/computer screen like a maniac too.

None of my American friends play soccer for fun or follow the sport.  In order for me to get into it, I'd have to make a concerted effort to find a team to root for and then find a way to follow that team.  The ease of watching teams that I care about play sports that I know about made watching soccer fall down my to-do list to just below "re-read Bill Clinton's 1000 page autobiography" and just above "hit myself in the face with a hammer".

Then I moved here.  Access to soccer matches is easy.  It's the sports that I care the most about that were hard as hell to follow.  Don't get me wrong, they show games each week.  But as a fan of a team, I want to see my games.  I couldn't care less about some Saints/Bucs game (unless my boys have a bye week).  I didn't/won't miss a game, but I'm not a fan of the hassle that it is to watch the games.  Playing basketball is easy here.  Just go to a court and play.  Most of the guys at courts I've been to speak English to me on the court and basketball is an easy game to play.  Just put the ball in the basket.  Then try and stop them from doing it.  Of course there are different skill levels, but it's still a basic game and if you're not that good, then you lose and wait your turn to lose again.  Simple.  Playing football would be impossible.  They have a league here, but I'm not trying to play with pads and re-live some unfulfilled dreams of high school glory.  I had a son for that.  If I am going to play something at my age and ability, it would have to be not that much contact and fun.

Then some time last year I went to dinner with friends.  Funny how dinner with friends can set up some crazy experiences.  Swedie's friend had a boyfriend that played soccer quite regularly.  I looked at the guy who was skinnier than Swedie with Bash's muscle mass and would have never thought he knew anything about sports.  But he apparently was pretty good at soccer.  We had drinks (what's dinner without drinks) and my version of "foot-in-mouth" this time was to say that I would join him some time.  His eyes lit up.  He said that if I was serious, he'd call me next week to play with him and his friends.  It's just soccer, right?  If this guy can play, then I could, right?

       - Sure, man.  Just let me know.

A few days later, I get the call.  He was serious!  He said tomorrow we'd be playing.  Get my cleats and meet him at the train station.  Oh yeah, I do need cleats, don't I?  So I go to the store and buy some nice Adidas cleats.  Why not?  This would be my new thing anyway.  A good sport to get in shape.  Who cares if I suck?  It's just a fun game.

But it wasn't a fun game.  This game was for a league.  I got there and was handed a jersey.  People were warming up with "game faces" on.  I have a "game face" but it's for basketball.  I have a strength and confidence about my basketball game.  I can't have that same confident glare off into the distant land of focus as I mishandle the ball and then it rolls off onto the grass on the side and I chase it up until it reaches somebody's son who gracefully somehow gets control of it and pops it up to his knee and bounces it back to me.  Thanks kid.  Thanks for ruining my "game face".  Thanks for making me realize that my skill set is less than that of a nine year old bystander.  I hope a stray ball hits you in the face later.

I quickly let the team know that I have never played a game of soccer in my life.  They tell me it's no big deal.  That shouldn't be a problem.  A guy whom I immediately assume is my leader in life tells me to play on the right side as a wing.  At least I think he said that.

       - What does that mean?
       - You're like a safety in football.

Cool.  I know what a safety does.  As I play and get yelled at, I realize that he meant cornerback.  I'm supposed to be like a cornerback in a zone defense.  Ok.  Now I'm getting it.  I feel good as I run back and forth.  I'm in the flow of the game.  This is pretty fun.  Everything was good until the other team started scoring.  I'm pretty good at understanding defensive responsibilities in sports.  Because of this, I'm pretty sure that I'm the sole reason they scored five goals.  My team was trying to be nice to me, but I am certain that they were pissed.  I was running back and forth, having a good time, blowing defensive responsibilities with a smile on my face.  What else could I do?  I can't become some type of offensive force in one match.  How about don't invite me to a match that counts next time, guys?  How about that?

We lost 5-0.  They were showboating by the end of the match.  Trying crazy shots.  Picking on the guy who had no idea what was going on (me).  It was almost not fun anymore.  But I liked being out there just to get in some running and learn more about the game.  I was ready to make this a weekly thing.  I told him to give me a call for the next game.  This would be fun!  They never called.  That would be the end of my soccer experience for the time being.

I have been watching the World Cup.  I have a few friends that went to Brazil to enjoy the experience first hand.  I was supposed to go myself but then Swedie went and got herself pregnant.  Such a hater.  So I definitely couldn't go.  I did read my friend's blog about it though (check it out here) and it made me both wish I was there and glad that he's coming here next to give me all of the details.  Of course I rooted for the US throughout.  They weren't projected to make it out of the "group of death" and they did, so I'm very proud.  They also played their hearts out in some exciting matches.

The older me can appreciate soccer.  There is more action in the matches besides the scoring.  The scoring is a huge payoff, but the back and forth of the action is entertaining to me now.  I can even see plays being run now.  There are similarities between this sport and our football.  This is my first time watching the World Cup, but it won't be my last.  The matches have been fun and competitive for the most part, and the atmosphere seems amazing.  They should really do something about the diving (flopping), though.  Seriously.  These guys act like they severed a foot and then 45 seconds later they're running at top speed.  It's ridiculous and makes me root for the other team every time.  That's why I have an unreasonable disdain for Portugal.

I got back on the pitch (I'm learning) yesterday.  It was 11 on 11 and I felt a bit lost and overwhelmed.  I ran around for about two hours and the highlight of my run was kicking a knee-high rebound toward the goal with my left foot with a surprising amount of power off of the goal post.  Never has almost scoring in any sport felt so rewarding.  I've got the bug now.  Bring on the football!!!  Until next time...


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