Not a fan of soccer, but World Cup is a blast

Let me start off by saying that I’m not a big soccer fan.

It’s not that I necessarily have anything against the game, it’s just not something I’ve followed or paid a lot of attention to over the years. And, no, soccer fan, don’t start telling me I don’t understand the nuances of the game. I get it. I understand the strategy. I appreciate the difficulty in doing what they do, and respect the endurance and stamina required to play a sport that is a semi-continuous stream of action.

It just doesn’t entertain me much as a spectator.

Much the way I get frustrated watching college basketball more than I used to because the games have become progressively over-coached over the years, I feel the same way about soccer, particularly on the international level. And, yes, I understand that the smallest breakdown by anyone on a team can result in the other team scoring a valuable goal, but it’s still somewhat boring for me to watch world-class athletes afraid, or unwilling, to put their jaw-dropping talent on full display.

Regardless, I’m not trying to trash soccer in this piece. I love how many young people get out and play the game, and I’ve sat in pubs in Europe watching Premier League games with over-served, enthusiastic fans going crazy over every pass. It’s a blast to watch it in that environment, and you can’t help but find yourself gravitating to the herd mentality and rooting along with everybody else.

And that’s where I kind of want to go today.

I’ve been enjoying this World Cup as much as I’ve ever enjoyed watching soccer. Certainly, much of that is due to the United States playing well in the first two games of the tournament, Sunday’s heart-wrenching tie in the final seconds against Portugal notwithstanding. But I believe the true lure is the world-wide crowd wearing their collective hearts on their sleeves as they figuratively live and die with every minute of action.

The crowds at the games have been a raucous cacophony of different languages and celebratory traditions, and I’ve been generally entertained by the cutaway shots television producers have been doing when they show crowds in different parts of the world watching the action. It’s been fun to be out and about lately and hear soccer on everybody’s lips, and there is never a bad time to embrace a pure sense of patriotism that each nation’s fans have been displaying throughout, without the background noise of political parties or social issues.

It’s black and white. If you’re American, you root for the U.S. If you’re Brazilian, you root for Brazil. If you’re...

But I digress. Come on, you saw where I was going there.

However, there is an intense sense of nationalism on display that seems almost pure. People from every part of the world are draping themselves in their country’s flags, singing songs of encouragement for their teams and cheering on their squads with fervor and passion. A friend of mine posted on Facebook the other day, “One reason I love the World Cup: It makes high fiving with complete strangers almost seem normal.”

A-ha. Maybe that’s the real reason I’m more into this World Cup than I have been in previous years. The fans have always been tremendous at the World Cup,though I still find myself waking up some nights in a cold sweat because that buzzing of the vuvuzela from the last World Cup still haunts my dreams. And while Americans seem to become more soccer-savvy every four years, it still pales in comparison here to football or other “major sports.”

No, I think the key this time for me has been social media. When the U.S. jumped out to a 2-1 lead over Portugal late in the game Sunday, my first reaction was to check my Twitter feed. Indeed, it had gone crazy, as people I follow on there simultaneously erupted in celebration. It was almost odd seeing everyone united together for the same team, as significant events in sports or politics tend to have one group cheering wildly while the other pouts and moans in despair.

To be honest, that’s why I sometimes open up my Twitter account in the first place — the drama. It’s entertainment at its most base form to me, and there has been more than one occassion when I’ve watched something happen and my first reaction was to jump on Twitter and watch the show.

But there’s less drama these days, at least as far as the sports-following folks I read on a day-to-day basis. Now it’s all about the American team when they are playing, with unsolicited commentary coming on every other game being televised as fans have embraced the entire tournament.

Hopefully, the U.S. has advanced to the round of 16 by the time you read this. If they didn’t, tip your cap to them for making us all care and forget the other stuff. Even if only for a few weeks.