In 2014, apparently I was so out of touch with this blog that I wrote nothing the entire calendar year. I guess I was tweeting? Anyway, I certainly was crushed after the #USMNT’s loss to Belgium in the Round of 16, and I kept up with soccer, and both the American men and women’s teams in a big way, but didn’t leave any instructions here.
So we come to 2018.
The men’s World Cup is over. The United States failed to qualify, our family’s second team, Italy, also failed to qualify — bit of a rarity, there — and yet I’ve just spent four weeks with soccer on in the background of most of the parts of my daily life, at least two or three games a day, and of course on that one glorious first weekend of the tournament, the magical four-game day!
Why was it so much fun? Honestly, it felt like anyone could win every single game, maybe with the exception of England-Panama. Parity is real, and even though we didn’t get a new World Cup winner out of this tournament, I would take this French team (a.k.a Diaspora FC) over just about anyone else who came to play, maybe excepting Peru.
There are some easy answers. Here are five.
Keep watching soccer. MLS and the NWSL are in full swing. Your local teams are probably easy to find, and there are games on FOX, ESPN, NBC Sports, and there are streaming options, too. Is the quality as high as Brazil-Belgium? Every now and then, sure! For a few minutes. Either way, it’s professional soccer, with stars like Zlatan and Marta and Alex Morgan and (sigh) Wayne Rooney and lots of fun. Honestly, if you live somewhere like Portland, Seattle, Atlanta, Orlando (!), Kansas City, or Columbus, you might be shocked to find amazing groups of supporters standing and singing for 90 minutes, complete with tifo and drums and all that comes with it.
Keep watching soccer. The English Premier League starts in a few weeks. If you don’t have a favorite team, now is the time to pick one. In 2010, I picked Everton. Now, yes, I know, true Evertonians born in Merseyside will chuckle and say real Evertonians are born, they don’t just pick a favorite team, and I get that, but really, you’ll be fine. Pick an English team. It’s easy to find their games on television every Saturday morning between mid-August and mid-May. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is especially fun. Here’s a slightly outdated guide to… picking a guide… to picking an EPL team to support.
Play soccer. My year or so playing in a co-ed indoor league on Wednesday nights was the most sports glory I have ever achieved (we won the league championship two sessions in a row, little thanks to me, the big slow guy in the back). For real, you can do it. If you’re my age, just make sure you have good health insurance and know when to say when. I played in an all-ages league where I was routinely smoked by kids half my age, but rumor has it the old man leagues are substantially more physical. Your mileage may vary.
Play fantasy soccer. MLS and EPL both have really fun fantasy league systems. If you’ve ever played fantasy football or baseball or whatever, you know how this works. It’s a great way to suddenly care deeply about the performance of those two inexpensive midfielders from Watford or that one overachieving forward from Bournemouth.
SUPPORT THE WORLD CUP WINNING UNITED STATES WOMEN’S NATIONAL TEAM. It’s always challenging to give this enough emphasis, but the United States is a three-time World Cup winner. Three times. Three!!! Our women’s team has — without exaggeration — driven the spread of soccer around the world at both the highest and lowest levels since their first win in 1999. The 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada (we were lucky enough to see the US-Germany semifinal in Montreal!) was a turning point for parity in women’s soccer. England, Brazil, Japan, Germany, France, Canada — these teams are all powerhouses.
There’s always more you can do. Coach your kids’ soccer teams! Volunteer and get involved, don’t leave it to someone else. Join the American Outlaws. Find your local soccer bars and go to watch the games even when you can’t get there in person! Just as good: Find some other country’s soccer bars in your neighborhood and go get some culture!
Remember when I told you to keep paying attention to U.S. soccer in between World Cups? Well, if you’re paying attention to the English Premier League right now, you might notice Clint Dempsey’s name popping up among some pretty prestigious strikers.
You might remember Dempsey from the 2010 World Cup as the guy who put one by a brick-handed English goalie, or just as the guy who took more bumps, bruises, and bloody noses than any Yank since De Rossi elbowed McBride.
Congratulations to the millions of American sports fans who started paying attention to the United States men’s soccer team over the last few weeks at the World Cup!
No, really, I’m not being sarcastic this time — you’ve been awesome. Tweeting about the team’s chances, the watershed draw against England, the stunning way they won the group, and then the heartbreaking loss to Ghana, when the heart-attack inducing boys in red, white, and blue simply didn’t have the legs or the gas left in the proverbial tank to make one more comeback.
Maybe you even went to a bar, or watched some of these games with friends and family, or got your kids excited about the sport. Extra points if you did! (My three-year-old now asks “Did Dempsey fall down?” every time I yell his name. More extra points if you understand why that’s especially funny!)
So here’s the thing: I know from experience that it’s VERY EASY to COMPLETELY FORGET this sport exists (outside of video games, naturally) for the next four years.
If you’d like to see the team win next time, there are a whole mess of ways you can help.
Get excited and stay excited about the prospect of this country actually excelling at the sport the rest of the world plays.
Follow the #USMNT hashtag on Twitter: OK, this is just too easy. #USMNT stands for United States Men’s National Team, and that’s where you’ll find the hardcore supporters, organizations, bloggers, and fans. That hashtag will let you know when the team is playing, how players are developing, and lead you to great blogs and other folks on Twitter to follow. This is simple, just go ahead and save the search in your favorite Twitter machine now. I’ll wait here…
Go to a professional soccer game: Sounds crazy, right? I mean, how are you going to get to England or Spain or Italy to see a professional soccer game? But wait, wait, we have our very own pro soccer league these days, and it’s come a long way from the days of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Not only is the MLS a respectable soccer league with folks like Landon Donovan, David Beckham, and Thierry Henry making appearances, but it’s also likely that there’s a team near your town. I know it’s time for me to start supporting DC United, for one, but you’ll find teams in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, LA, Boston, and even Kansas City, San Jose (again), and Columbus. Support your local team, cheer them on, and in the process, you’ll be putting your money where your mouth is, helping develop American talent for the national team. Bonus round: If you’re anywhere near the NY/NJ metro area, you can catch the U.S. national team, featuring a whole bunch of the guys you’ve been watching on TV the last two weeks, take on BRAZIL in a friendly exhibition, on August 10 at the New Meadowlands. Protip: If you’re thinking of going, check prices with fan clubs like Sam’s Army (official-ish, conventional, family-friendly) and the American Outlaws (young, fun, raucous) before throwing money at Ticketmaster.
Play more soccer: Want to learn about the game, get excited, and stay excited? Jump in. If your kids are excited, get them into a fall league (or even a week-long summer camp). If you’re excited, search for local indoor leagues, or if you live in some major metro full of hipsters, you might find a cool co-ed outdoor league for adults. These things are everywhere, and players of a wide variety of skill levels appear to be welcome.