I wasn’t always a soccer fan. I grew up like many kids, playing the sport on Saturday mornings and then having nothing to do with it through the rest of the week. It took me years to appreciate it the way I do now, but the journey was well worth the payoff.
My journey to becoming a full-fledged soccer fan started when I was a young kid at Mistlin Park in Ripon, Calif. I played soccer in the Saturday morning recreation leagues every fall and I eventually excelled at the sport when I got to middle school. During that time, I started really paying attention to professional sports. The 2010 World Cup created the perfect storm for me to become a big fan of the sport.
I still remember the tournament in detail: South Africa’s screamer of a goal against Mexico in the first game; Landon Donovan’s game-winner against Algeria; Luis Suarez’s hand ball against Ghana; the Netherlands’ unfortunate defeat in the final against Spain.
Although this was the first World Cup I had watched, I could feel the magic in each goal that was scored. I felt the pressure of every match as the tournament edged closer and closer to the final. I had only been interested in soccer for a short time but I was so intrigued by how the sport was played at the highest level. An insatiable desire grew in me to understand soccer and its complexities and take the skills that I saw on TV to my games at home.
When the World Cup ended, I continued to play soccer but I watched the sport less frequently. Despite this, I followed Landon Donovan because was the best American player at the time at his club, the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Galaxy had two major stars on their team: Donovan, and the English soccer legend David Beckham. Beckham was one of the first big-name European soccer stars to come over to Major League Soccer (MLS) and end his career in the U.S., starting a trend that the Galaxy still benefit from (see Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Robbie Keane, and Zlatan Ibrahimavic).
In 2012, the Galaxy played against their rivals, the San Jose Earthquakes, and I sat down to watch it. Although I was there to watch Landon Donovan and David Beckham, it was the Earthquakes that caught my attention. The first goal of the match was scored by former APU Cougar Steven Lenhart. He cleaned up a botched save in front of the goal and had an unconventional way of celebrating. Instead of celebrating in the corner, which is normal for most soccer players, he ran back to the front of the goal and started doing pull-ups on the crossbar.
I immediately became an Earthquakes fan after that.
Although the Quakes trailed 3-2 at halftime, they made a comeback for the ages, scoring two goals fairly quickly and held on for the 4-3 victory. After watching my new favorite MLS side seal a victory against their most bitter rivals, I knew I wanted to see that in person.
The next year, my family and I drove out to Palo Alto for the same matchup at Stanford Stadium. Again, the Quakes went down early and started the second half behind 1-0. After the Galaxy scored another goal with about 30 minutes remaining, things were not looking good for the Quakes. They did get a goal back quickly, cutting the lead to 2-1. However, center back Victor Bernardez was sent off the field with 15 minutes left in the game Now in stoppage time, down by a goal and missing a player, the Quakes were not in a good position. Suddenly, midfielder Shea Salinas found the back of the net and tied the game. San Jose got possession again and started an attack with time ticking away. Marvin Chavez dropped a defender with some quick step-overs and crossed the ball to Salinas on the other side of the 18-yard box. Salinas then found Sam Cronin at the top of the 18 with a lot of room. Instead of shooting the ball, Cronin chips a pass towards the back post to Alan Gordon who scores the game-winning goal. The stadium, which was already loud from the tying goal, erupted and the final whistle blew soon after. This game cemented my love for soccer, and although I have been to and played in other wild games, it has remained atop my list of favorite sports memories.
Now that my high school playing career is over, my passion for the sport is exercised purely through watching it on TV, in the stadium or on campus. I have realized that soccer, unlike many other sports, is a game of moments. Statistics don’t necessarily outline what happened in the game. For example, a team could have 60 percent of the possession throughout the match and have 15 shots on goal and still lose. That is why soccer fans keep watching; no matter how good or bad your team is, they always have a chance to win the match. Goals can happen at any time, in any number of ways and just one can swing the momentum in your favor. There is nothing more beautiful than when everything comes together and the ball finds the back of the net. The feeling I get after a goal, whether watching or playing, is incomparable in the world of sports and that’s why I love this game.