Growing up, I didn’t care much for soccer. I played one season in elementary school then moved on to other sports like football and basketball. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was the first World Cup I remember watching. I vaguely remember games being on in the background and having little interest in the group stages. To me, the World Cup was just something to watch because nothing else was on. After being exposed to the World Cup in 2010, I went into the 2014 World Cup with more knowledge. I remember Germany’s impressive run, including their iconic 7-1 victory over Brazil on their road to their fourth World Cup victory. But like in 2010, I quickly lost interest in soccer.
For me, the 2018 World Cup was different. I made an effort to watch most games from the group stages and found myself following the storylines of the tournament. Moments involving fans from Japan and Senegal celebrating after a hard-fought match or Iranian fans keeping Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo up at night made the games seem like a staging ground for these cross-cultural interactions. I saw just how important this event was to the rest of the world and I was hooked.
Of course, the play on the field was spectacular as well. Watching France and Croatia battle it out in the World Cup Final was a sight to behold. Players like Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba from France made the game enjoyable for even the most casual soccer fans. It was clear to see that players from both teams were some of the best players in the world and had perfected their craft. This World Cup changed my mind about soccer. With three World Cups under my belt, I decided to invest more time into the beautiful game.
Luckily, I didn’t have to look far to find quality competition. The International Champion’s Cup, a global exhibition of top soccer clubs from multiple leagues, took place shortly after the World Cup. Here I was introduced to the talent of teams like Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich, Juventus, and other teams representing various leagues. The exhibition’s timing couldn’t have been better. It was great for curious sports fans to learn about the talent and competition happening overseas. Many of the games took place in the US so Americans got firsthand experience with the world’s most popular sport.
In the United States, football reigns supreme with basketball making its case for dominance with each passing year. I think soccer deserves to be in that discussion. With a running clock and two 45-minute halves, games move faster than a football or baseball game. Scoring is low among the better teams but every shot on goal excites the crowd as they beg for more. In big tournaments, penalty kicks offer some of the most exciting and suspenseful moments in sports. The mental game of knowing every shot matters and the physical pressure of scoring or stopping a goal make penalty kicks must-see action of any close game. Whether you want to watch the best of international play like Bundesliga or watch your local MLS team, there is some form of competition that will interest you.
I encourage all Americans to watch soccer in some form that’s not the World Cup. I know that a summer without football or basketball can be tough, but there is good competition out there. I don’t claim to be an expert on soccer and I’m still learning the intricacies of the game. Despite the lack of knowledge, I’m still enjoying the game. As someone who loves competition, I’m glad I gave soccer another shot and I’m excited to watch even more exciting games in the near future.