In high school, I played soccer. By play, I mean sat on the bench talking about philosophy, homework and staring at cloud formations with the other players who were kept on the team as a mercy gesture. Sometimes, I’d get subbed in (I was a “defender”) around the 80th minute, if we were up a few goals. Emphasis on the “sometimes.” And those frantic minutes I was on the pitch were filled with danger and misplay.
I mean to say that my experience with sports has been limited – almost exclusively confined to random recreation and playing sports video-games. That isn’t to say I haven’t had intense spats of general interest in sports. There was one stage, in 7th grade, in which I became hopelessly obsessed with baseball and the Yankees, collecting cards and religiously playing the MLB games on my PlayStation. I even got a baseball signed by Yogi Berra (R.I.P.) at a collector store. And now, I find myself enthralled with soccer again.
Soccer has always been an elusive paramour to my family, something we played (or tried to) but rarely watched on TV. My dad introduced me and my brother to the sport, having been a star goalie for C.W. Post (ahem, LIU Post) back in the 80’s. In 2006, I rooted for Italy in the World Cup, noting Francesco Totti as a favorite player. And now, one of those Italian players Andrea Pirlo is a star on a new, inaugural season New York City team for Major League Soccer.
Way back in 2000, as was tradition, youth players were given trading cards with their own picture, position, age, etc. We were asked to say who our favorite player was – not knowing anyone, I said Mia Hamm. That was the year after the Women’s National Team won the World Cup. And that was the last time they won it until this summer in a scorching 5-2 match with Japan. The day after the cup, I overheard a hell of a lot of conversations about it. A man on the train ranted to me how they are the best of the best.
I have to say, enthusiasm for the sport has been more potent and visible than I’ve ever seen. The success of the Women’s National team, and the excitement of the men’s cup the summer before, has won me over as an avid follower of the sport. As I write this, I am wearing my NYCFC shirt. This new team boasts stars like Spaniard David Villa, Brit Frank Lampard, the aforementioned Italian Pirlo, USMNT star Mix Diskerud and up and coming fan favorites like Kwadwo Poku (unleash the POKU!) and goalie Josh Saunders.
I have never been more dedicated to a sports team like this. My family has begun to watch NYC games with the same vigor as American football fans – we make food, drinks and make a day of it. I’ve gone to three matches in this inaugural season, and I know quite a few fellow Post students who are into it too. I understand now, sports are damn entertaining, but they’re also something we grow up with, hold on to, and value excellence in similarly to art.
So, I pick up my copy of FIFA 16 for PS4 last week and plunge into a quick match. This time, I have the option (for the first time ever in the series) of playing as the USWNT and other women’s teams around the world. Alex Morgan stands equal to Lionel Messi on the video game cover – no doubt this respect has been earned by the hard work of our female players at the World Cup during the summer.
I can’t help but think about how the sport has grown, how I picked Mia Hamm as my favorite player years ago, and now, fifteen years later, millions of people around the world might pick up a copy of this game, play as a women’s team and pick a player from there.