Though probably hard believe looking at this picture that just screams, "All-Star Athlete," I never really excelled as a soccer player. I wore the team shirt and the shin guards and I ate the orange slices, but I spent most of the games twirling around the field like a ballerina while my teammates abandoned their positions to chase the ball in an unorganized pack. Sensing playing soccer was likely just a "phase" I was going through, my parents never even invested in cleats, so I "played" the game in Reeboks.
In middle school and high school, soccer was, admittedly, all about the boys. Attending all home games and traveling to club and away games was less about the game, more about looking cute, seeing my friends and hoping for a awkward teenaged sweaty hug after the game was over. Thankfully, my high school had a soccer reputation and we won the state championship every year that I was there. Being a fan was easy.
Thanks to Jacob (who was one of those hottie high school players at a school across town) my relationship with soccer has changed in the two years we've been dating. I mean, let me be clear, the game is still full of eye candy that I'm more than happy to sacrifice a Saturday morning for - but his knowledge and love of the game has rubbed off on me and by proxy, I've become a legit fan. I'm still learning the difference between the English Premier League and the League Championship and the Champions League and what offsides means, but last summer I went to my first professional game and I was hooked.
Jacob and I watched the US/Ghana match at an Outback Steakhouse in Florence, South Carolina, on our way back from the beach. We went back and forth about whether or not we should continue driving and just listen to the game on the radio, but decided to stop, knowing if we didn't we'd regret missing out.
The stop delayed us getting home until after midnight, but it was completely worth it. Even surrounded by non-soccer fans shouting nonsensical things like, "Damn! We need more points on the board," I couldn't contain my excitement over the US win. Jacob was smiling from ear to ear.
Last weekend, we didn't do much more than watch soccer and I enjoyed showcasing just how far I'd come as a fan, calling out from the couch when I recognized someone I'd seen before. "There's Sturridge!" "Rooney's hair plugs have come in nicely!," and "There's the biter with the horse teeth!" Suarez has been the source of many laughs long before this week's incident, but jokes aside, Suarez is a grown man, professional athlete playing in the World Cup and he is a serial biter. WTF?
Sunday we postponed leaving for the Counting Crows concert so we could watch the US/Portugal match - an emotional roller coaster of epic proportions. We're gonna lose . . . We're gonna tie! . . . WE'RE GONNA WIN AND MOVE ON AND OMGGGGGGGGGGGGG . . . aaaaaand we'll settle for a tie. While mathematically I knew the team was still in great shape to move on, tying felt like a dagger to the heart.
I'm certainly not immune to losing emotional games - I am a Georgia Bulldog, after all. But while Sunday's disappointment was palpable, so was the camaraderie I felt with the three people I was watching with and all the millions of people cheering for the US team. That felt different. In a country where everyone seems to be at odds about everything, it's fun - emotional even - to feel the excitement of all Americans finally cheering for the same thing.
There will always be soccer haters - and our country might not ever completely the embrace the sport like others have, but it's hard to deny that there's something special about this team.