Another World Cup has come and gone, and I am once again left with only conflicting memories of unbearable heartbreaks and delirious celebrations to tide me over until 2018. For many people, including myself, the World Cup is the ultimate event in our lives every four years. A worldwide party fueled by unmatched passion bordering on insanity for the greatest sport on Earth.
Of course, there are plenty of ways to get our fix until Russia. We have the Women’s World Cup to look forward to in a few months, not to mention the EuroCup and the Copa America as well as the Champions League and all the other club tournaments. And because I miss this most beautiful game and because I just returned from a friendly match between Real Madrid (YAAAAS) and Manchester United (which, by the by, broke the record for largest crowd at a US soccer game) and because I am positively suffering from withdrawals, I decided to put down into words just what this sport means to me.
I’ve been playing soccer my entire life. My earliest memory is from my very first season. We lost every single game yet somehow won the one that qualified us for the play-offs and then impossibly won the championship. I was six. It was a very emotional moment for me.
Growing up in South Florida, I was luckier than most in finding like-minded fanatics in my area. The rise of soccer’s popularity in the US has been slow, to say the least. In high school and college, it came as a big surprise that most of my non-Latino American friends (read gringos) were far more interested in football than futbol.
But this World Cup was something else. The explosion of support and popularity for the USMNT in Brazil was like nothing I had ever seen before. Compared to Germany 2010, which also saw a significant rise in soccer fever (thank you Landon Donovan), the difference was incredible. And I cannot put into words how happy I am that the US is finally catching up to what the rest of the world has known for a long time: nothing, literally nothing, compares to soccer.
Soccer is about creating opportunities and overcoming obstacles. It’s about non-stop energy in the face of defeat. It’s knowing the entire world can be turned upside down in two seconds and turned right back up in the next ten.
Like most sports, soccer relies on blind trust and flawless teamwork. But no other sport can claim the beauty that comes with the skills. When you play soccer, your legendary status is not only determined by the number of goals you’ve scored or stopped. You achieve legendary status when you master the control of the ball so completely that it becomes an extension of your foot. When you perfect the fake-out, the Chilena, the bicycle, the scissors, the never-ending juggling — when every single limb is attuned to the bounce of the ball and answers without fail.
It’s when little kids grow up watching stars like Ronaldinho and Pele, sneaking on the computer and staying up late watching replays, when they spend hours alone in their driveway, bouncing and juggling and balancing, hoping to one day to perfect the jogo bonito they have come to idolize.
The most beautiful thing about soccer is the mind-blowing skills that define it. The skills that are not necessary to play the game but whose sheer possibility of occurrence during a match keep every spectator on the edge of their seats with bated breath. It’s not just about how fast you dribble or how many goals you can score. It’s about understanding control and mastering it beyond reasonable doubt. Knowing when to dominate and when to relinquish. No other sport can define itself in this way. No other sport even comes close.
Soccer is unfettered passion. And once you’re hooked, there’s no going back.
Welcome America. Welcome to the most beautiful game.