Watching soccer in person or on television or playing the game is not near the top of my to do list, but Wednesday, as I made my way south on Interstate-95 between West Palm Beach and Miami, shuttling between business appointments, I found myself scanning the radio dial on the rented car in search of the United States third and final group game of the opening round of the World Cup being played somewhere in Africa.
I’m not really a fan of the sport but my recent obsession with a game I’ve always considered as organized keep-away is much the same as that of thousands, maybe millions, of Americans. I’m rallying around the flag, not only wanting the USA to win but wanting to be a little part of it by watching and saying later that I saw it live. Wasn’t that great!
For me playing soccer has been no more than kicking a ball around the backyard before getting more interested in the tetherball game because it was my turn, or grabbing a bat and glove to play baseball or a football to toss or a basketball toss at a basket or a golf ball to hit with a club as far away me as possible and then chase after it. My first real involvement in the sport came in college while taking the physical education version of the course and trying to watch the college team. As a spectator sport, it was slow; it didn’t include a lot of action as far as I was concerned; it was boring.
Then, along came my son and his desire to play youth soccer. Good exercise for him; drudgery for me, though, to drive every Sunday from the west end of Cary to somewhere on the north side of Raleigh to the weekly game. I think he was pretty good at what he was doing, but my limited knowledge of the sport other than when I was a fair goalie in the PE version and knowing that yellow and red cards were in my future were reasons I declined to help coach though repeatedly asked.
But as a sports fan, every four years, a similar cycle to the Olympics competitions, I take a cursory interest in soccer, but only as a selfish American wanting my team to win no matter the quality of the players or play. And, I’ll also root against another team just see the United States advance. Here’s to the Red, White and Blue! I hope England loses. Damn Brits!
So yesterday, while I’m driving the shuttle, my traveling salesman partner was staring at his iPhone and mumbling things such as: 22 minutes and no score; scored but was disallowed; doesn’t look good; England is up 1-0; got to do something. I soon realized he was reading a running commentary about the soccer game in which the United States had to win to advance to the next round of the World Cup. While he knew how to get what he wanted to appear on his sophisticated mobile device, I knew there had to be an ESPN radio affiliate somewhere on the dial and, since we were in south Florida, the game must be on live. And there was.
Though unfamiliar with the names of the players on the United States team, it took only moments to realize which team was which. The announcer, who thankfully was an unbiased homer (I could tell he was pulling for the USA but he never questioned decisions by the referees such as “contact but no foul” as I hear in area basketball games all the time), was terrific. He painted a picture that put me on the field of play. I knew where the ball was at all times and who was attacking which goal. And, he enunciated the names of the players so over a few minutes I knew the names of several USA teammates, but don’t ask me now. That was yesterday. And, he kept me clued in about the time of the USA game, the score of England’s game, and how the results of both would affect the USA’s chances of playing again, keeping the overwhelming “Yankee” patriotism alive.
I was enjoying the ride so much that the 60 minute drive to the next stop seemingly went by much faster. The only downside was my riding partner who was overly concerned about the time remaining in the game. Even in the first half. With the score 0-0. “We need to do something,” he kept saying of the United States’ effort. I countered with “plenty of time. There’s an entire second half to play. There are always additional minutes at the end. And, it doesn’t take but a second to determine a winner in this sport and sometimes by mistake.”
My interest in the game continued but the appointment was waiting so we exited the car and the radio. He went back to the iPhone; I found a television in the building and watched for all of 30 seconds before our prospective customer appeared. Then we went into the dungeon of the building, the location we were required to see and study to determine if our product would fit and work. We, at least I, forgot about the soccer game. I believe if it had been a Wolfpack sports event on television, I would have delayed the appointment, but this was soccer and my interest subsided as I thought about the potential commission check if the visit resulted in a sale.
There had been little time remaining in the 0-0 game when we went out of range of communication, even for the iPhone, but when we made it back to higher ground, I darted for the television and the iPhone was back in operation. The game was over but United States had scored the winning goal in the 91st minute of play. We were both amazed and, with pride, mentioned it to everyone else along the way the remainder of the day. We watched replays several times as we sat for dinner in a sports bar. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Just that one moment in time, when that ball made its way into the Algerian goal, I was a proud United States soccer fan. At that point, I knew more about the sport than I ever have. I wanted to know our date, time and opponent for round two of the World Cup. Will I watch Saturday at 2:00 p.m. eastern time on ABC? Maybe, if time permits. If so, I’ll be chanting: Go USA! Beat Ghana. Right now, I’m a soccer fan. OK, a USA soccer fan.