Do you have a thing that you really enjoy, and then you forget about how much you enjoy it when you step away from it for a while? Maybe it’s a game or a TV show. For me, at least this year, it’s World Cup soccer. Or football, if you are most anywhere else in the world apart from the US (although there are apparently a few other countries that use a similar term too). But the point is that every 4 years we have soccer on television in the US in a way that is not normal. Sure, you have your hipster dudes who are watching Premier League Football on weekend mornings the rest of the time, but you have to be watching NBCSN* to do that. This is not really a country where soccer/football has taken hold the way that it has in the rest of the world, and yet, for me every four years, I love it. It’s exciting and fun and different. And having grown up in the generation where every kid played soccer, I feel like I know how the game is played.
And yes, the US team didn’t qualify this year. A big part of that is because while the US has lots of talented athletes, we probably aren’t recruiting from the widest pool of potential players. And that’s because soccer has become a middle-class-and-up suburban sport. To get into competitive leagues as a teenager, it costs a lot of money, or else is simply seen as a “rich people’s sport”, and so kids who might be super talented are left out, or choose something different. It doesn’t help that for athletes seeking wealth and glory the average salaries in even the professional league are an order of magnitude smaller than the next highest league. So the US isn’t there. Oh well, probably for the best. Better to get the real focus on how awesome our women’s team is.
This gave me a chance to root for other teams for which I have affinity. The top two teams I would be following were Argentina (because I have family there) and England (because we have close friends there, and oh that’s where the Boy is from). I was also intrigued to watch Iceland (a country I visited and LOVED). Rooting for Argentina feels like being a Yankees fan because they are traditionally a very good team, and they’ve also got one of the best players in the world in Lionel Messi. Thank goodness for that family connection, or else I would feel like a jerk. Rooting for England feels like the easy choice too, since they are the country so many other Americans will default to rooting for, partly due to many people watching the Premier League and following English players. Again – thank goodness for the family connection that allows me to say “I’m supporting my husband’s country”. Iceland was the underdog, hipster fun-times pick this year, and I have no excuse.
Because of the time difference between here and host country Russia, I wasn’t able to watch many if any of the weekday games, since they took place during the daytime while I have been at work, with 2pm tending to be the late game. Lucky for me, there have been some good games with teams I care about happening on weekends starting with the Argentina-Iceland game (I was the only person at that party cheering for Argentina). The next weekend we all (E and Baby B included) went to a big watch party at Ireland’s Four Courts with friends to watch the England-Panama game. It was a lot of fun, and England DOMINATED, and somehow the baby stayed awake and even ate a little during the first half, and then fell asleep for the second half! In a bar!!!
And while Iceland didn’t get through to the knockout round, we have now reached the point where things have gotten nerve-wracking. Iceland didn’t make it to the knockout round. Argentina flamed out in their first game against France (who are still in it and play this afternoon against Belgium). And I am left with England, who I am totally happy to root for when they play Croatia tomorrow afternoon. It’s exciting for the Boy, and I think the biggest part of that is national pride since he’s not super-into-sports, but he was telling me about this song that was produced as part of a sports-comedy show “get-hyped” for the Euro Cup in 1996. And that song – “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)” has apparently been topping the charts in England recently. Even better are the memes surrounding the song.
Anyways – I probably won’t get to watch the actual games today or tomorrow, but I will be rooting for England. The third place playoff game happens Saturday morning at 10 am. The final is Sunday morning at 11. We’ll see what happens. But it’s been a good tournament, and I look forward to remembering how much fun tournament soccer is again in four years.
*An earlier version of this article stated that ESPN was the channel for the Premier League, which is wrong. This just goes to show how much we watch those games in our house!