Just like the Olympics the World Cup takes place once every four years. But while the Olympics is a showcase for hundreds of different events ranging from track and field to swimming the World Cup focuses on one international sport, football, or soccer as it is known by in the US. The game is gaining an audience in the US as the popularity of the sport continues to grow here. In 1994 the United States hosted the World Cup and a lot has changed in the past twenty years. Children in the US now get exposed to soccer at an early age with the growth of youth groups like AYSO. I believe this is where the majority of parents also learn about the sport. For generations while countries around the world cherished their beloved football, the US for the most part couldn’t have given a crap about it. We had our own American football played by real men making tackles, blocking, and running with the ball in our hands towards the goal line. We just couldn’t grasp the concept of a game played with the feet . I remember in Jr. High when the coach said we were going to be playing soccer we all just looked at him with blank stares on our face. It was my first experience with the sport and I was 12-years old. A 12-year old in most any other country would already be a proficient player having spent their childhood playing pick-up games of soccer with their heroes being soccer players also. All I knew at the time was to kick a ball into a net to score. I had no idea how many players were on a team, much less any of the rules. My coach didn’t know much more as he divided the entire class into two teams on the school’s American football field , threw us a basketball since we didn’t even have soccer balls at the school, and told us to kick the ball until it went under the goal posts. There were about 20-kids on each team and we all wanted to score, so all 40-kids just moved around in a mass kicking a basketball. The coach sat back in his chair and read the sports section of the newspaper and occasionally looked up to make sure no one was hurt. The kids eventually bored by a game they had no understanding of soon began venturing off the field until the coach noticed the game had dwindled down to about ten players per side with the others either hiding behind storage sheds or just laying in the grass. That was my only experience with soccer for my entire childhood. Having grown and now with children I got my first glimpse into the game and some of the rules as they all participated in AYSO. With your kid playing it becomes a fun sport to watch. You actually know now what offsides is, what dribbling is, the difference between a goal kick and a corner kick, the positions and an appreciation of the endurance it takes to play the sport. The MLS (Major League Soccer) finally making it as a professional sport after several failed attempts has also added to soccer’s popularity in the US. I actually bought a mini-package to LA Galaxy games and Landon Donovan became a household name. The next big step will be to buy an actual jersey and wear it to a local bar when the US is playing. That sounds like a lot of effort compared to just turning it on at home on my big-screen TV. I hear people line up at the bar at 9am for a 3pm match…not my style.
Back to Brazil, this year’s host country. Some observations, 1) putting a soccer stadium in the middle of Amazon rainforest is either considered a great engineering feat or a huge waste of time and money. Playing one of the world’s most grueling sports in the Amazon jungle couldn’t be good for the body. I’ll be curious what that stadium looks like in four more years, probably like the Temple of Doom from an Indiana Jones movie. 2) Soccer players are actually actors in disguise. The way they intentionally fall in faking an injury gets to be too much at times. It originally looks like their leg has been shattered in ten places when they fall, but if a penalty isn’t called they are right back playing at full speed…Oscar nomination. 3) They let fans bring in anything that can be carried in to a soccer stadium. Big drums, air horns, signs, costumes are all part of the being in the crowd. It’s fun to see but I wonder if any of these fans could get past security at a Laker or Dodger game with a bass drum in their hands. 4) The fans love their teams. I’ve rarely seen such passion for a sport as I do in soccer. It looks like mass hysteria when a goal is scored and when a team loses it’s like a funeral. Having the US in the tournament makes it 100x more interesting to watch. Only 32-teams worldwide qualify for this prestigious event and it is now not a matter if we qualify or not, but how far in the tournament the US can go. I actually know what day and time each US game is and make sure I’m in front of a TV to view it. Soccer has come a long way in the past twenty years in the US and the word is spreading fast. Viva futbol!