As I begin writing this column, I realize I have not made any confessions lately and I'm afraid you are growing too used to a leisured, easy read (actually, you and I may be part of a small, endangered species that actually reads newspapers, as opposed to merely texts in phones). Well, today I have a big confession to make and it may, or not, be a big surprise to many of you: I love soccer!!!
Since I was born and raised in Argentina, one of the two premier countries for soccer in the Americas, the other being Brazil (although both lost early on and were eliminated), it should be no surprise that I like the game. My family, however, were not big soccer followers, but everybody around me, including some of my uncles were. Besides, and here comes another confession, I was a little bit of a tomboy growing up and remember very vividly playing soccer with boys in the neighborhood who were older but accepted me willingly. My mother, however, had a problem with my invariably bruised knees and shins. Ah, but the adrenalin surge of running after the ball, passing the ball, kicking it, and then, the goooooool! Soccer is fundamentally a game of skill and team effort. To be frank, I don't care anymore who wins, it is the adrenaline rush and when the game is well-played, it has been defined as a "beautiful game," and so it is.
Today, in such a changed and strange world, it is almost ridiculous to enjoy watching 22 grown men (11 per team plus the goalie) running after a ball in-full-to-capacity stadiums with everybody screaming encouragement at the top of their lungs. Today, in a world of political correctness, it is practically incorrect to watch 22 men who are not very nice to each other, spit on the court and scratch their crotch, run after a ball? This is not the sophistication of tennis or cricket, it is simply the most popular sport in the world that requires a great deal of skill and stamina. The consensus is that it is a beautiful game. It is a game that brings together different social and economic groups under one flag. A sport that lets little boys dream about a better future (and slowly little girls, too). I have seen many kids all over the world play it barefoot (ouch, it hurts.) However, America, the USA, has not yet accepted soccer as a national sport and since everything today is about the money and millionaire contracts, the gaming syndicates are not standing behind the American teams. Likewise for women's soccer. Yes, there is a fantastic women's team that languishes. I guess the sisters have not discovered soccer yet.
The Cup has been won by a European team - France- this year (first time that Croatia made it to the final!) and hopefully when the next one comes around (every four years, so we are looking at 2022) the USA will qualify and be a mighty contender. The demographics of the country alone should help the process. Growing Latino, Asian and African populations hopefully will exercise enough pressure so the game is sponsored, followed and supported. Little soccer leagues will not be just the sole purview of white middle-class neighborhoods. Children will not have to play barefoot and everybody, proud of being American, will recognize that soccer is a beautiful game!