When I decided to sit down and begin writing about the Odyssean experience of following soccer in America, I had to figure out where to start. Like millions of other Americans, I began playing youth soccer, but my first experience with the wider culture of soccer was the 1994 World Cup in America, specifically USA vs. Switzerland. For the first time, I felt the 5 Stages of Grief after seeing Switzerland score against America in the 39th minute. However, before I could reach the 5th stage of acceptance, this happened:
I spent the rest of the day out in the yard trying to replicate that free kick, complete with celebration, against the side of my house.
The other noteworthy memory from the ’94 World Cup was Leonardo’s elbow on Tab Ramos during USA vs. Brazil.
Instantly, I was enraged. How was the USA supposed to win the World Cup now without Tab?! How could this loathsome Brazilian take out our player on July 4th?! I wasn’t enamored with Brazil afterwards, and certainly did not cheer as they lifted the World Cup two weeks later following their penalty shoot-out victory over Italy in the final.
Looking back some 20 years later, what is most intriguing to me is how no one taught me how to experience the emotions related to this sport. I didn’t look to see how my father reacted or my siblings, it was an intutive action. Not only was it unlearned, but it was unique to me. These games were mine, and growing up with in a small house with so many people, things that were mine, and mine alone, were a rarity. Perhaps that’s why I took to soccer as more than just the activity of youth sports and began this journey.