By Gazelle Emami
During World Cup fever about this time last year, I found soccer the way some people find religion. Or maybe it was more in the vein of finding yourself with a drug addiction. Either way, once it’s in your blood, soccer becomes a way of life, and it can make you crazy.
So as my friends and I rushed to the stadium Saturday afternoon for the U.S. Men’s National Team (MNT) vs. China match in San Jose, 20 minutes into the first half, hearing the crowd go wild over Marcus Beasley’s penalty goal for MNT, my heart sunk a little at the thought that I’d missed the only chance to see a goal that afternoon. But at the same time, the sound of that crowd made my heart beat a little quicker and my feet move a little faster. Was this panic or excitement I was feeling? This game can make your emotions go a little haywire.
Luckily, with MNT’s 4-1 win over China, the game had plenty of excitement left in it. Of course, it’s always thrilling to see USA’s Oguchi Onyewu head the ball into the goal -- and the game definitely delivered in that respect. But the match was also enjoyable at its most basic levels.
For starters, it looked good. There’s just something aesthetically pleasing about the fancy footwork involved in a struggle for the ball.
And second, it embodied the raw, passionate nationalism that’s never as beautiful as it is with soccer. Though the relatively unimportant match was deemed a “friendly international” game -- more of a warm-up for the upcoming Gold Cup -- the phrase is almost an oxymoron. No, you’re not going to get diehard fans that start riots, pass out threats to their opponents, and tattoo team names across their chests, not in the U.S. But you will hear 20,821 fans at the intimate Spartan Stadium pounding their feet, shaking the bleachers, screaming “USA! USA!” And you might even hear some shouting “Boo Communists!”
It’s nothing personal, though. It’s just that soccer isn’t only about sport—your team is representing an entire ideology out there. And like any ideology, it has its nasty points and its beautiful ones, both delivered and defended with fervor. That’s what fuels the game – and that’s why we love it.
Photos courtesy of ussoccer.com .