I grew up in Nowhereville, Flyover State, USA. It took half a dozen tiny towns named after (totally unrelated) Native Americans & railroad company executives to make a single Pre-K through 12th grade school district. If you’re not from one of these glorified villages let me tell you something – varsity sports are far and away the rope that ties our communities together. You go to the game not just because you want to but because it’s really your only option for anything remotely resembling entertainment. Your life, whether as an athlete or just a spectator becomes a continuous loop of football & basketball Friday nights, wrestling invitational Saturdays, and summers at the ball diamond. Needless to say, these sports have a special place in my heart; they are at the absolute core of my life-long sports fandom.
But they are not the best.
I had no exposure to it as a child or teenager. I ignored it during college. Look far enough back in my Twitter archive and you’ll find me blasting it on more than one occasion. But then, I fell in love with it. Seemingly overnight. Soccer. Soccer is the best.
The passion. I am an (fuck Vegas) Oakland Raider fan; a team that proudly claims a fan section called “The Black Hole”. I am an Iowa State fan; Hilton Magic is real. Nothing could have prepared me for the non-stop chanting, screaming, and swearing that comes with soccer. I have lost my voice more times on routine goals and saves than on any big shot or missed call in any other sport. The best part? No one is going to tell you to calm down or look at you strange because they themselves are too busy cursing out an official or heckling a goalie. You’ll fist bump with the old woman sitting next to you and pick someone else’s kid up and put them on your shoulder without even realizing it. There’s a camaraderie among the fans that is indescribable and can only be understood by experiencing it.
The relationship between players and fans. In one of the coolest sports traditions ever, the players, drenched in blood, sweat and dirt circle the arena and applaud thousands of drunk fans after matches. When’s the last time you were applauded for jumping around, yelling, and finishing a pitcher? Freshman year?
It literally never ends. This sport is on 12 months a year. You never have to countdown the days until it returns. You never have to miss it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder; it makes the heart grow irate & borderline delusional.
It’s athletic as hell. When’s the last time you saw a fat soccer player? These guys and gals are god-like physical specimens whose bodies take a straight up beating. There’s no shoulder-pads or helmets and oh yeah, their shoes have death spikes on them. Let’s forget the fact that players get next to no extensive time off, matches are two 45-minute halves – with zero timeouts. They are running around the biggest playing field in sports (shut up sports with fancy carts and horses) breaking ankles and kicking balls with insane precision for an hour and a half. The only thing I can do for that long is eat pasta.
Trophies on top of trophies. So, your team sucks this year in their main league. That’s okay. Soccer has side matches & tournaments galore. World Cup? Olympics? Gold Cup? US Open Cup? Friendlies? Your favorite teams and players are likely competing simultaneously somewhere else for those coveted bragging rights. Without hope, we have nothing.
It’s not slow. Can I repeat – there are no timeouts. There’s no 30 seconds between pitch, no commercial between every kick, no shot clock. The offense doesn’t go and then the defense. It’s all at once. You take the ball when you want the ball and you keep it for as damn long as you please (or until someone physically overpowers you for it).
The men (and women)
Need I say more?
You don’t need experience playing it. You don’t need sentimental history with it. You don’t need to spend a season learning it – the rules are simple. You just need to get out to the pitch and fall in love with it.
P.S. Hockey is still the worst.