Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ready for the World Cup (How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love Soccer)

Let's go back 16 years. The 13-year-old me was ready to watch the Cup but with jaded pessimism. With Jim Rome's anti-soccer talk in my ears, I was raised to think soccer was a silly sport. I was an American snob in training and watching the 1998 American team finish dead last made it feel even more like I was right.

I knew the big soccer stars like Ronaldo and Zidane and I became a fan of the bald French goalie Barthez. But I wasn't about to dive deeper in soccer and there was no way I believed America would ever matter since I knew the best soccer talent was worldwide. So I stayed segregated in my growing hoop/pigskin/baseball world.

And here I am now. More geeked for the World Cup than I've ever been. Fully immersed in the previews (hat-tip to my Bro Jackson brethren killing those) and anxious to see Brazil kick it off, while praying the turmoil there doesn't get too overshadowed.

A lot can happen in a decade and a half. Even despite friends who played soccer in junior high/high school, I just never saw it as more than the other sport. Give a lot of credit to Twitter where good folks have helped educate me on the game as well the exciting World Cups of the last few years as well as America's performance. Not to mention following the UEFA Champions League a little bit and becoming a fan of FC Barcelona.

Four years ago, I was in downtown L.A. watching U.S. vs. Ghana at L.A. Live with a bunch of soccer fans. I had initially come down to meet an acquaintance from Twitter who was in town for the NHL Draft and while they were in Staples, I stood outside at watched. I cheered with everyone in USA jerseys, I groaned when Ghana scored yet was happy for an African country to advance in South Africa.

You can blame this great moment for getting me excited that year. It didn't help that I also had a friend in Spain at the time and she was going nuts as David Villa and crew brought the Cup back to Madrid. You also can credit ESPN's 30 for 30 coming up with great soccer documentaries to further whet my appetite.

So for the 2014 Cup, what am I looking forward to? Considering the US has a tough group, I'm not expecting much for them. My motto is just hoping that we are a competitive team and that Jurgen Klinsmann continues building for the future. It does suck that Landon Donovan won't be there but if Jozy Altidore can play like he did last week, it can balance it out.

There's no way we beat Germany or Portugal so I'll be happy with a well-played game and seeing Ghana again? Well, best case is play for a tie but stealing a win wouldn't hurt. However, I respect Ghana enough to know they have our number and it's going to take a crisp game to hang with them.

My eyes are on the other teams too. Can Brazil win this one at home with the brilliance of the phenom Neymar? Is Argentina poised to make a deep run so Lionel Messi the GAWD can make an impact? Same with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal? Who will make a name for themselves like David Villa did four years ago.

I'll also be watching Mexico since my girlfriend's family will be rooting for them along with the US. They've had some coaching changes and the brilliant wunderkind Chicharito Hernandez hasn't made much noise lately. With him not starting, can El Tri shake off their recent woes and live up to their promise led by Giovani Dos Santos?

Uruguay's Luis Suarez is another player I've read about the last couple weeks. Brilliant and emotional but for some reason, I'm captivated by seeing him in action. So I'll be watching him along with other countries to see how they play and further dive into this beautiful game.

Maybe that's the great thing of my evolution. Watching soccer has taught me to just shut up and watch. Enjoy the game, try to learn as you go and save the analysis for the true heads. It also means I have no emotional ties to a team so it's freeing and fun. That's why I'm glad I've come a complete 180 on soccer and I can't wait to soak up these next few weeks of the best soccer around

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