I come from a land where ‘fútbol’ is known as soccer, where babies are born with baseball mitts or basketballs in their hands. Where I come from, there are no soccer hooligans, no suicides when a team loses, no fireworks or orchestras of honking horns when a team wins. Everywhere else people refer to soccer as “the beautiful game”; fans yearn for the pinpoint precision of a pass delivered onto a striker’s laces, or the gymnastic grace of a player knocking the ball into the “upper ninety” of the net with a bicycle kick. They hope to catch a glimpse of the goalkeeper, parallel with the horizon, as he leaps to make a save. And all that is, well, beautiful. But I believe there is more to soccer’s beauty than the aesthetic; I believe much of its splendor is off the field.
As a young player in the United States, I felt isolated from the soccer-worshipping world. I had to wait for the World Cup every four years to witness, through a television screen, the pandemonium that absorbs nations and spits out their respective people in the shape of proud patriots. Then I joined a soccer team called ‘Americana,’ comprised of Central and South Americans, and all that changed. Soccer was our common language, sprinkled with some English and Spanish. My teammates’ mothers hugged me because I played ‘fútbol’ not football, because I appreciated that soccer was a source of pride where they came from.
At our games, my parents and grandparents whistled and screamed and groaned alongside all the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers of my teammates. Before some of our important matches, my mother cooked huge vats of pasta for us while we bleached each other’s hair for good luck and sheer unity. My teammates took me to social clubs where we watched their Perus, Ecuadors, and Columbias vie for positions in the World Cup, tipping our chairs and spilling our sodas with every shot on goal. I began to see, without the confining borders of a television screen, what it was like to become blinded by the emotion that envelops one’s body in tandem with the tides of a soccer game. I began to believe in soccer’s true beauty—its magnetism, the way it brings together those hailing from the mountains and the valleys, the cities and the villages, the democracies and the dictatorships.
While soccer is gaining popularity in the U.S., the ‘fútbol’ frenzy is yet to completely wash up from distant shores. But I can smell it in the air, can hear the cries and screams of soccer zealots, can feel the passion for the “World’s Game” building up right here in the U.S.A., the home of the free and land of ‘other’ sports. I must thank my country for the objective view of soccer it once afforded me; but I am indebted to my old ‘Americana’ teammates for making me realize the craze was never that far away after all, and for sparking my belief in the unparalleled power of soccer.
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