Once every four years, I find Nirvana. For 30 glorious days during the summer, everything else in my life stops. The biggest event in the world takes center stage, and words like “football,” “pitch,” “equalizer” and “penalty” get bandied about with daily frequency.
Yes, it is the World Cup.
I am a lifelong soccer fan, and this is my time.
After 47 months of enduring inane comments about how boring the sport is from the uninitiated, I get to revel in the elegance and the pageantry of the most beautiful and most popular sport in the world.
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It is the common denominator amongst the world’s people. Every country has legions of fans. The game brings us together in a colossal melting pot, where Iranian players hug Nigerians during the game, Ghanaian players embrace the American team’s German-born coach, and fans of all nations sing and cheer and drink together in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
How fitting that Brazil should be home to the World Cup this year — a country that has incorporated the celebration of diversity into its national character.
A peek at the roster of the U.S. men’s national team, which defeated Ghana in its first game Tuesday, reveals five players born outside the United States. Plus, the diversity of the country itself is reflected in the last names of players such as Johannsson and Bedoya, Gonzalez and Dempsey, Zusi and Wondolowski and Davis.
It is a game for everyone. Simple, easy to learn, difficult to master. That is its beauty. Players need the skill and coordination of baseball players, the athleticism of football and basketball players and the toughness of rugby players.
It is truly the king of sports. And right now, it reigns supreme.
There are, of course, problems in the sport. And they need to be addressed. But that is a discussion for a different day. Right now, hardcore fans and neophytes alike are talking about soccer. I had someone ask me for a score from my phone while in the drive-through at In-N-Out. I’ve had people high-five me when I was wearing my Chile jersey at the store.
Fans are delighting in the 47 goals scored in the first 15 games, an average of three per game, destroying complaints that soccer doesn’t have enough scoring. The sport has in the past decade become a fixture on ESPN and SportsCenter. More kids play soccer than any other sport in the United States. Fifty-three million Hispanics live in the country, the largest minority, and a large percentage love the game.
So the next time someone tells you that soccer isn’t popular in this country, tell them the truth. Americans love soccer.
And it is here to stay. At long last.