It wasn’t until I moved to Germany, but especially since the 2014 FIFA World Cup, that I actually watched a single game of soccer. Okay, so technically I’d seen a few games before — one in Portland and another one in Seattle — but I had no idea who was playing or what was going on because I wasn’t paying attention. Why wasn’t I paying attention? Two reasons: 1.) I don’t follow sports because I am a huge nerd, and 2.) I am American.
Oddly enough, lots of American kids actually grow up playing soccer. I know I did, and I hated every minute of it. I had no coordination at all, and my grasp of the mechanics of the game were confused at best. It just seemed like a bunch of kids running around in a cluster, kicking each other in the shins until the ball went out of bounds. I’ve seen the old VHS tapes my Dad recorded in the 1980s, and they’re exactly like that — like a pack of yipping hyenas toying with a baby gazelle until it dies.
My soccer team was named “Footloose” and I once earned a trophy with the title, “Mr. Offense” engraved on the front. Although I was proud of that trophy, I never felt like I’d earned it — probably because the “offense” I provided all summer consisted entirely of itching beneath my shin guards and staring off into space. I don’t even know which position I played. Probably defender. Anyway, I never put together the fact that every single kid on my soccer team got an award each year, and that my contributions to the game involved absolutely no goals scored ever. Ever.
Given the popularity of soccer among American kids, it seems odd we don’t really follow the sport into adulthood. It begins as a “soccer mom” hobby, with all the minivans and orange slices, but it stays there. Oh sure, it’s gaining popularity every year, especially in cities like my hometown of Portland, Oregon, which has it’s own professional team (the Portland Timbers), but soccer still trails far behind football, baseball, basketball and hockey. I have a few theories on why Americans have been so reluctant to embrace the sport, and they are as follows:
- We only root for winners.
Americans are all about winners. Heroes. Legends. VIPs. We think very highly of ourselves, and we abhor anything which might take away from our godlike confidence. Obviously our national soccer team has become a force to be reckoned with, and a US victory in the World Cup is an inevitability, but we’ve been very reluctant to commit ourselves to our team. I think we would rather turn our backs on the sport entirely — coming up with reasons for our disdain after the fact — rather than feel the sting of defeat in the global arena. It’s like we allow for absolutely no learning curve when it comes to competing against other countries. If soccer were checkers, we wouldn’t flip over the board because we lost; we just wouldn’t play the game at all. “Pffffft, Checkers. That game is for fags.”
- We don’t like sharing the ball.
Soccer is very much a team sport. Virtually every single goal is assisted in some way by another player, and getting the ball near the goal in the first place probably required the entire team working together in unison. You can’t really have a Michael Jordan running up and down the court, schooling everyone single-handedly. Or a Mark McGwire, crushing home runs with arms that are thicker around than my thighs. Sure, there are the stars — the big names, like Thomas Müller on the German national team, Lionel Messi with Argentina and Neymar Da Silva Santos Júnior, who took a Columbian knee to the spine playing for Brazil — but the game really comes down to fundamentals, like passing, position and crossing. I think Americans find fundamentals boring; the back-and-forth of it, seemingly without end. What we want to see is one person, one shining, heroic example of all that is man, rise up and crush the other team with high drama and sweat-soaked glory (and bloodshed, if possible).
- We are disgusted by diving.
“Flopping,” “diving” or “taking a fall” — whatever you want to call it — we hate it. Americans are a macho bunch, and we pride ourselves on our ability to dish out a beating… or take one. Seeing a grown man throw his arms up in the air, twist his face in pain and roll around on the ground like he’s dying — only to see him stand up a few seconds later and continue playing like nothing ever happened — makes us sick to our stomachs. I don’t think anyone actually likes flopping. Even my German wife makes fun of it, putting the back of her hand to her forehead, crying, “I’m dying, I’m dying.” The first time I saw someone take a dive, I was positively outraged. “What is this shit? WHAT IS THIS SHIT!?” So, to me, it seems like the rest of the soccer-loving world puts up with flopping like it’s a necessary evil. Sure, they’ll roll their eyes, but they have fully accepted it. Americans just aren’t ready to do the same… yet.
I loved watching the 2014 World Cup, especially as an American living in Germany. I was just so curious about everything, and with Germany winning it all and taking home that hideous trophy, I was in the perfect position to become a lifelong fan. I think a lot of people enjoyed the hell out of the World Cup — Americans included — and the sport is now more popular than ever.
It would be awesome if every country in the world had a vested interest in competitive soccer. I think it would bring us all a little closer together. I’m not saying it would give us world peace or anything, but it might make us a little more respectful. Like the Olympics. Have you ever wanted to punch a man in the throat just because he won a gold medal and he wasn’t from your country? If a woman from another country defeats the woman from your country, does that really make you want to slap her in the tits? No. It makes you respect the athlete — and hopefully the country from whence they came — and try to do better next time.
So let’s watch a little more soccer, America! We have an awesome team! (And we even stole Jürgen Klinsmann, a badass coach from Germany.) Speaking of Germany, let’s cheer for them now… and then kick their hairy asses in the 2018 World Cup!
Read more about my experiences as an American expat in Germany watching the FIFA 2014 World Cup.