I Can’t Love Soccer

I’m never going to love soccer. I love my friends who love soccer, but I just can’t share their passion for the sport. I can appreciate a cleverly crafted shot or exceptional goal tending. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the athleticism required to play. How many people can run a 10K while kicking a ball around in a spirited, high-speed game of keep-away?

I love soccer fans. Some of them scare me a bit, but I love them. The pageantry of their commitment is impressive—the costumes, the face paint, the emotional investment, the team loyalty.

I love that soccer is so accessible. The rules don’t take a lifetime to learn, and you don’t need a lot of “stuff” to start a game. So many other sports require specific conditions and equipment. I love volleyball, but I don’t have a net system in my closet that I can tote around for pick-up games. But to play soccer, all you need is some space and a ball. Chances are you can find markers (rocks, sticks, tee-shirts) to use as impromptu goals. If you walk my favorite beach in the Caribbean, you’re almost guaranteed to find a group of soccer players using just a ball, four sticks serving as goal posts, and the ocean as their sideline—an albeit fluid boundary.

Despite its many merits, I can’t love soccer. What I feel for the game isn’t unlike what I’d experience at a stranger’s one-hundredth birthday party—impressed, perhaps, but not emotionally invested or deeply involved. I can get swept up in the excitement of a great play. I can marvel at the goalie’s reserve during a shoot-out. I can be amused by the cheers and costumes of the fans. I can appreciate (and even envy) that you don’t need much in the way of equipment to play for fun. But I can’t love soccer.

I have my reasons. Regardless of the sport, I find the possibility of a game ending in a scoreless tie unnerving. It frustrates me as a spectator that soccer players can strive and strategize and run themselves to the brink of exhaustion for a minimum of ninety minutes only to find the 0-0 score of the game’s onset still standing. How can all of that time and effort amount to the mathematical equivalent of nothing? How can both sides sweat, bruise, and bleed for a zero?

Perhaps the real reason I can’t love soccer is that it hurt me physically. I was playing as part of my school’s Field Day. There wasn’t a season or tournament championship hanging in the balance. This was just a friendly game for class bragging rights. One moment I was racing full speed (and I’m pretty fast) to beat an opposing player (who was actually on the school’s soccer team) for the ball. Suddenly we were shoulder-to-shoulder, matching stride for stride. The only difference between us when we reached the ball at the same time was that she was an experienced player, and I was a rank amateur.

I don’t know if it was the ball, her legs, or my own feet in a cruel act of betrayal, but something caused me to dramatically loose my footing. My body was launched. For a few seconds—just long enough to marvel at the sensation of it—I flew perfectly parallel to the ground. But what goes up must come down. Gravity got the last word, and I fell shoulder first into the mud. Several onlookers rushed to my side. Their faces looked concerned, but I thought I felt fine. I tried to shake it off. I tried to keep playing. It hurt to pump my arms, so I decided to run with them at my side. That was awkward. During the next lull in play I tried to rest my hands on my hips. That’s when I realized I couldn’t lift my right arm. The school nurse noticed a disconcerting protrusion. I had dislocated my shoulder. That injury injected pain into my next few volleyball seasons. I resented and then distrusted soccer; I couldn’t love it.

So while much of the world pays frenzied attention to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, I can muster only a mild interest. I can barely commit to watching a full game. I’m satisfied with seeing the highlights. I have no vested interest in any particular team’s success—not even my own country’s. My patriotism doesn’t apply here.

I can’t completely ignore the Word Cup. I don’t want to. It’s kind of a big deal. It’s full of amazing athletes, stunning saves and plays, and some pretty incredible flops too. There’s something special about watching an event that matters to people all over the world. And when I do watch, I prefer the Spanish-speaking stations. I don’t understand the commentary, but the level of excitement expressed by the commentators requires no translation. Every time a goal is scored, their words throw a party. I have yet to find that depth of emotion on the American stations. By comparison, they might as well be reading the phonebook backwards.

I think it would be nice to be a soccer fan. They definitely know how to have fun and exude energy. But being a fan doesn’t come naturally to me. I don’t follow basketball or hockey. I once fell asleep at a baseball game. Only a small number of teams and players have my loyalty. And even though so much of the world is enamored of it, I can’t love soccer. It’s just not my game.

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