Finding Fun in Soccer
With the sporting world, blogosphere, and all things musical going ga-ga over whether singer Taylor Swift and Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce really are an item, I turned my attentions in a different direction recently: the soccer pitch.
Nobody was more surprised by this turn of events than me. For two decades, my wife and I have been periodically going to games to watch grandchildren (and now great-grandchildren) play soccer.
Not because we particularly admire the sport, but our presence is more important than the outcome of any game. Even when they end up 0-0 (and why some fans think that kind of result should even be allowed to exist is beyond me).
Yet, with the final weekend of fall soccer upon us, I find myself wistful over the end of a season I have come to enjoy. Well, at least the high school variety.
Feeling their Way
We have a great-grandson in ninth grade who has been playing since pre-school days. You know, the times when little tykes don’t understand what’s going on or where they’re supposed to be; they’re just happy it’s Saturday and folks are there to cheer them on. Even when they suddenly pout and walk to the sidelines, refusing to continue. Or when, for no discernible reason, break into tears.
There is still an element of the “what are we doing here?” with the 10-year-old great-grandson whose season concludes Sunday afternoon. But he and his teammates are starting to show more awareness and aptitude on the field as they tune up for the days ahead when it will become a real sport.
That’s the level our high-school grandson has reached. Now, as a freshman, he doesn’t get to play that often with the varsity. But recently the coach added a junior varsity match where he tended the goal throughout the game.
And what action! As a longtime football fan, I prefer offensive battles and scores like Ole Miss’s recent 55-49 upset of LSU. With soccer, the opposite is true, as happened during the JV game.
There were numerous close misses, with our grandson making several outstanding, game-saving stops. The same happened at the other end of the field, until with about three minutes to go a teammate of our grandson’s headed the ball into the net for a 1-0 victory.
A Packed House
Soccer turnouts are much smaller than the typical Friday night high school football crowd, and for JV games there are even fewer fans. But on this night the place erupted as if it were packed to the gills.
Before this, I never would have called a 1-0 outcome exciting, even when our hometown Marshall University soccer team won the NCAA championship a couple years ago by that very score.
And it’s not just when our grandson plays that things have been exciting. We have become fans of his team and last month watched two of the most thrilling games I’ve ever seen.
His team lost the first, 2-1, and won the second 3-2. Both were marked by close calls, last-minute goals, and fans screaming at the refs for missing thrown elbows, body blocks, and other fouls.
I’m still trying to understand soccer’s finer points, but with the Copa America championship coming to the U.S. next year, followed by the FIFA World Cup in 2026, I guess it’s time to master them.
Besides, from what I read, the sport’s growth is driven by young, diverse audiences. Understanding soccer may mean I can pretend to be hip, even if my vanishing hair says otherwise.