Written by warhorse
America is a land of plenty in almost any area, but for soccer fans...we are desert travellers. We search for the few and far between oases' of soccer passion and fandom. Maybe it's not that desperate, in fact, let's just say water is sweeter in a desert. I'll explain that in the second half, but first a bit of personal history (Sorry, I'm a history teacher).
Looking over my father's shoulder through teary eyes, I stared at red, white, and blue fireworks. The Memphis Americans had won! Great, but why did those fireworks have to be so loud and scary? Most American kids at this age are introduced to the traditional American games. Baseball, basketball, or football. My situation was unique. My father didn't take me to baseball games, too boring! He didn't teach me how to golf, that was for rich douche bags. He wasn't worried about my football/basketball education, plenty of that on television. He taught me soccer, and part of that was attending games. The only game in town those days was the doomed semi-pro indoor team, the Memphis Americans. I can't say I was that fascinated. The souvenir ball was cool, especially when dad kicked it around with me.
Whoops! Indoor soccer giveth, and it taketh away. Dad joined a league and in time permanently damaged his knee in the process. "Those who can't do, teach." Already a professional teacher, my father expanded his work day by founding his school's first soccer program. This was before "soccer moms" and countless city soccer leagues. This program ran from elementary all the way up to high school, and I was promptly entered into it. Most American parents enter "Junior" into a soccer league to prep him for the "real" sports later on. It's also an opportunity for "Junior" to get socially active, not necessarily to improve one's footskills! Many lessons were learned in those early years, not the least of which...don't clear the ball toward your own goal. Key words being...own goal. I did fall in love with the sport, playing defense, midfield, and a little goalie. Hey, I was better at it than basketball! The smell of grass, the taste of orange Gatorade, all in the suffocating Tennessee humidity.
Now the sport had grown into a quasi-passion. Some of my teammates were just using soccer to get in shape for basketball season. I was invited to a national competition, where I played my best game, clearing the ball off the goal line in a foggy, muddy mess. My father had been our coach for five years. The rivalries had been cultivated in our small league. The chemistry with life-long teammates was there. Now it was time to win state. It was tough enough to win the local championship, but we did it year after year. State was the goal. Last try, but it wasn't to be. We lost to Tri-City in the semi-finals our senior year. I learned there were better players outside my bubble, sometimes my best needed to be better. My lasting memory is walking off the field that cold morning with my father's arm around my shoulder. Silence, tears, and finality. Dad went on to win state three times in the next four years. I always claimed it was because those scrubs had to practice against us.
This is where it all changed, and, I suspect, it changes for many American soccer fans/players. On my first night on campus, I jump into a pick-up game. "Play the ball, not the man!" a red-faced Irish student screams at me. I was in a whole new league. There was no school team, so a frat team was were I played. The Alpha Beta Delta Panthers! A medley of players were in the league, ranging from foreign superstars to geeks trying something new. My passion was waning. Studies, girls, the beach (Florida) were eclipsing sports. I still enjoyed playing, but life was getting in the way. New opportunities started looking sweeter. Academic demands were all too real. My new world had little room for a "kid's game."
A kid's game? Why do all these American soccer players grow up to be indifferent? Were did my passion go? How do I get back in? What is out there for an American soccer fan? What is the cost? What is the payoff? Is it worth it?
Halftime! See you in the second half.