BY JOSEPH SIMS
This is the first post by Seattle native Joseph Sims, 21, who will travel around the country during the World Cup in search of the heart and soul of soccer in the United States. Read about his journey in the Take 2 blog.
For one month, every four years, the world stops. No matter its troubles, its sorrows, its daily routine,. The world watches as one country hosts 32 national teams in the biggest sporting event on the planet. That month is so very close to us now: the 2014 FIFA World Cup starts on June 12 in Brazil.
For a long time, however, the United States didn’t stop with the rest of the world.
The country went into exile from the world’s game in the middle of the last century, making just one World Cup appearance (1950) in a 56-year span. Eyebrows were raised across the globe when FIFA decided to host 1994 World Cup in the USA, with many claiming that FIFA had “sold out” to a country with no interest in the sport. Yet Americans proved they were more than willing to cheer for the world’s soccer stars, making the 1994 World Cup the most attended World Cup ever.
Scenes such as these were unthinkable before the World Cup came to the U.S.
This country’s love of soccer has done nothing but grow in the 20 years since that magical month. We’ve gone from the world thinking we didn’t care at all for soccer to having 15 million Americans huddled around their TVs to watch our team play Ghana in 2010.
That is one wonderful feature of the World Cup: it serves as a quadrennial gauge of how far the USA’s interest in soccer has come. This year, I intend to witness the progress firsthand in a journey of over 7,000 miles. From June 7 to July 13, I will be traveling throughout this great country, observing our soccer culture, feeling our enthusiasm, and finding the heart of American soccer. I want to see how the game has grown and settled in all areas of the United States (not just the Northwest, where I grew up) since we re-emerged at the World Cup. I know what the World Cup means to me. I intend to find out what the World Cup means to America.
For example, how did those 15 million fall in love with the beautiful game? I can’t say (though I intend to find out). Some may have been captured by the magic of the World Cup. Others may have found their love in the playing of the game. More still may have been roped in by watching professional teams play, whether across the Atlantic or in their own town.
For me, my love affair started in France, during Euro 2004. My parents took me to a cafe to watch the quarterfinal between England and Portugal. I had never before seen a top-level men’s soccer match before, and I couldn’t have picked a better game as an introduction. It had everything: a late equalizer for Portugal in regular time, a controversial disallowing of a last-minute England goal, a wonder strike from Rui Costa in extra time, and a penalty shootout which, as is tradition, England would go on to lose.
Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo scored the winning goal in the shootout between Portugal and England in Euro 2004’s most thrilling match.
That game, watched in a crowded cafe with over 100 cheering people, changed my life. I pleaded with my parents to find a way to let me watch every other game of Euro 2004 for the rest of the trip, and as soon as I got back to the United States I immediately started trying to follow soccer more closely. My love for the game has since become a near obsession, going so far as to influence my study abroad plans in college so I could see my favorite team, Arsenal, play live.
And now soccer takes me on another journey. I will spend this month driving from the Pacific to the Atlantic and back again, watching games, meeting people, and drinking in the enthusiasm the World Cup brings out in sports fans everywhere. I’ll be in giant cities like New York, and small towns like Salina, Kan. I’ll speak to fans, business owners and MLS clubs. I’ll watch a match between the MLS’s fiercest rivals, watch ordinary people playing in their spare time and observe fans living and dying with their country’s fortunes in Brazil. In the process, I hope I can discover the culture of this wonderful sport in the United States.
Joseph Sims, 21, graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla in May with a degree in politics. The graduate of Roosevelt High School in Seattle has an obsession with soccer that has taken him all over the globe, from the World Cup in South Africa, to the Emirates Stadium in London, to the Sounders-Timbers rivalry right here in Seattle. Follow his journey around the country during the World Cup to find the heart and soul of soccer in the U.S. in the Take 2 blog.
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