February 28, 2008

Why are you here?

Not in general (I did pay attention in Health class), but why do you care enough about soccer to follow it this closely?

I saw a coach once ask his team to write down why they play and what motivates them the night before a national semifinal game. The coach then read everyone's answers to the team as they prepared for to leave for the game. The stories ranged from playing because of the support of their mother and striving to make her proud, to honoring relatives who have passed on, to dreams of playing in a national championship game, and to simply loving the game and wanting to be the best that they could possibly be. The stories of struggle, loss, heart, and emotion motivated the team to go on to fight to a 3-1 win while playing nearly 45 minutes with a man down. It put the power of this game and how it can bring people from all over the world together on display.

So I ask you, the Cupcake Nation, why are you here?

For me, I played baseball and basketball when I was little. They were okay, but didn't hook me. I played soccer at the local YMCA during the spring of '86 and liked it. That summer, I saw the first soccer games on TV that I had ever seen, the 1986 World Cup from Mexico. Once I saw guys like Platini, Strachan, Negrete, and Laudrup, I knew I had found something.

However, it was Diego Maradona and Argentina that really did it for me. Everybody talks about the goal against England, but it was the semifinal against Belgium that I'll never forget. I couldn't wait for the game to start all day, and then Maradona just took over. He was a one man wrecking crew that day. He went on to dominate the final a few days later as well, even without scoring a goal. To this day, I've never seen any player have a stretch of quality like that summer in Mexico.

After that World Cup, all I wanted to do was play soccer. I found a knockoff Argentina jersey at the one soccer shop in town, put an Argentina patch on it and #10 on the back. I begged my parents for a pair of Puma cleats because that's what Maradona wore. I then begged my coach to let me play on the field, I had pretty much only played keeper the season before. Once I started to score goals, I truly fell in love with the game. You just can't match that feeling.

That feeling, it's pretty indescribable, but I'll try. There's just nothing that matches a good game to me. I remember random games from my childhood, not so much for the game itself, but they way they made me feel. I remember an indoor game during the summer after I graduated high school, playing with my old teammates, and how we sat around for hours after the game talking about how great that one meaningless game was. They all have meaning though, don't they? Just a couple of weeks ago, I jumped in a scrimmage with my U14 team I coach. It was such a good game that we didn't want to leave. The stadium people had to turn out the lights to get rid of us.

The more I played as a kid, the more I wanted to watch. I would stay at the field all day to watch all the teams in our league. I'd watch whatever I could find on TV. John Harkes became my favorite player since we played the same position. I could almost quote you the Sports Illustrated feature they did on him after he went to Sheffield Wednesday. I ended up getting Lanzera cleats because he wore them. I ended up becoming a DC United fan because that's who he ended up with in MLS. Maradona, and then Harkes, those were my heroes.

Just like I remember games I played in, I also remember games I watched. US v. Trinidad when Paul Caligiuri scored the goal that put the US in Italia '90, the US v. Ireland game in US Cup '92 where Wegerle and Dooley played for the first time for the US, the US v. Brazil games in World Cup '94 and Copa America '95 where we just couldn't beat them, and the US v. Brazil game in the '98 Gold Cup when we did thanks to Preki. I remember all those. I've scared roommates (MLS Cup '96 when DC came back somehow), scared friends (the US v. Italy game in the '06 World Cup when I was screaming like a lunatic at the TV, somehow hoping I could change the mind of a referee an ocean away), hugged strangers (at the US v. Mexico game in Columbus in '05), and been brought to tears (the US v. Germany game at World Cup '02).

I guess what it boils down to me is the passion. The tears, the cheers, the anger, the jubilation, all of it rolled together is what makes this game get me like it does.

So back to the original question, why are you here? Feel free to share in the comments...


Anonymous said...

Great post!

- Viking

Landon Donovan said...

I just hope all my hair doesn't fall out.

Jefa said...

It keeps me off the streets.

prairie said...

Brad Friedel.

In June of 2002, my husband and I were both out of work, bored, with nothing to do besides turn on Univision at three in the morning and see what it was our Brazilian neighbors were going on about. That was it; we got hooked. "Who's that huge mean looking bald mofo the US has in goal, he's phenomenal, what's his day job? Where the hell's Blackburn?" Sure, those other guys--Landy, Mastro--were fun to watch, but it was that monster between the pipes that made me fall in love with the game. Later that year, we went to our first MLS game, the 2002 Cup final, and four years later I'm waking up on the Sam's Army New England banner on the floor of the Frankfurt airport.

All because God is a large bald man.

Joe said...

I got a link from Seven Guys Short.

Longshoe said...

Thanks for the comments!

I'll add another one that happened over the weekend.

The local amateur side that I help coach was in the quarterfinals of a big tournament against our big rivals. Everytime we play these guys, everything goes against us. Bad calls, bad luck, everything. We tied them 4-4 in the regular season in the fall, then lost 1-0 in OT in the championship game.

Of course, we come out and go down 2-0 in the first 30 minutes. It all looks so similar. However, we get one back before the end of the half, and we have a game on our hands. The tying goal comes in the second half, and our rivals get a red card. Right before the end of regulation, we have a chance to win, but miss a sitter in the box. Off to OT...

Everything looks great when the same guy who missed in regulation scores in the second half of OT after a 40 yard run. It looks like we've finally done it and gotten past these guys. Of course, what happens next? Three guys go up for the same header, no one wins it, and our rivals level the score. Ugh, off to penalties...

All the penalties have been made, and it's down to our keeper and their captain. The piece of advice given to the keeper by our coach pans out, he makes the save, and we move on.

It was one of the best games I've ever been a part of, and I was exhausted at the end of it. Just an unbelievable rush when our keeper made that save, there just isn't any comparison. What a feeling...

Anonymous said...

There was the documentary that my dad had of 1982 World Cup. I can still picture Maradona kicking that guy in the nuts. There was watching the 1986 world cup on TV. Absolutely incredible. We watched the games over and over again after taping them. What can you say about Maradona in that tournament!

There was watching any soccer I could on TV. Mexican League and Copa America on Univision. Bundisliga on some channel. Was that PBS?? There was of course seeing Ryan Giggs play for Manchester United with his floppy hair. I guess Keane, Beckham, the Neville brothers, Scholes, Cantona all came around in the early to mid 90's but it's Ryan Giggs I remember watching.

There was playing as a little kid at Fort Gillem. There are vague memories of the Atlanta Chiefs. There was going to see Ireland vs Italy in the 1994 World Cup. It was the only game I got to see live I was (am) poor. There are plenty of other memories.

The icing on the cake to this point has to be the USA vs Italy game in Germany. It was just incredible. I had to go to YouTube and listen to the National Anthem from that game a few times. Still gives me cheers. Never before have I been to a sporting event where everyone sang. http://youtube.com/watch?v=eMBJgACmKow&feature=related
the part that really gets me is the "rockets red glare" everybody really belted that out.

All the Americans stood the entire game. Seemed like everbody sang and everybody continued to sing and chant and cheer the entire game.

It was also nice seeing the US beat Mexico at the Gold Cup last summer. Sitting with Sam's Army being pelted by beer it was all worth it.