Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gooooooooal!

I'm not a huge soccer fan. I never played, which may be due to being born just a little early for its prominence as a youth sport. (My three younger brothers all played.) I keep track of the local Major League Soccer franchise, although not like I once did. It's something I'll watch if it's on, but outside of a key national team match, I don't necessarily make a point of searching for the games.

Nevertheless, I have an appreciation for The Beautiful Game, as it is often called, especially every four years when the World Cup gives it a huge international stage. I first paid attention to it in 1994 when the United States hosted. I watched a fair number of the games and found the tournament to be rather exciting.

In 2002 the pro soccer franchise here held viewing parties at the stadium for the World Cup. There's nothing strange about that...except the games were usually being played in the dead of night in this part of the world. For whatever reason a friend and I went to it at something like 4 a.m. on a weekday to check out the event and the first U.S. match. Would you believe that there were so many people who showed up that the big tent was full, so they directed the rest of us to the stadium's bleachers to watch on the scoreboard? I attended several more of these viewing parties and really got into it. Certainly beats watching at home by yourself.

This morning I chose to go to work later so I could watch the USA-Algeria match. Much of the criticism from this country's sports media and fans toward soccer is concerned with the low scores or lack of scoring altogether, but in a match like this, the difficulty in putting one in the back of the net is what made it such a nerve-jangling viewing experience. When the USA buried the game's lone goal in stoppage time, virtually assuring a win and earning advancement in the World Cup, it was one of the most thrilling moments I've had as a sports viewer. (My head might have exploded if I'd been watching the Univision telecast when it happened. Listening to that announcer's call now makes me as giddy as when the goal was scored..)

The build-up to what was looking like a disappointing result for the game and the tournament suddenly vanished in a burst of cheering. I was pumping my arm in celebration, feeling the rush of having one's team come through, and rejoicing with those on Twitter who, like me, were practically beside themselves in gleeful surprise.

For those who don't understand why people watch sports, this is what we're waiting for. Be it the casual viewer or person who has invested years in rooting on a team, the fleeting moment in which the unlikely occurs to push your squad to victory, and seemingly everyone roars their approval in shock and amazement, and all the disappointments are washed away, it's what we all want but so rarely glimpse. But sometimes we do.

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