I have one friend who is an enormous soccer fan, and for the longest time I didn’t understand what his passion was all about. I am a baseball fan above all else, partly because it is the greatest game in the world, but also because I am an American. Moreover, soccer doesn’t have as much of a presence in the United States as it does in other parts of the world. The overblown, stars-and-stripes colored bubble that I occupied meant that for much of my life, I regarded soccer as beneath my interests as a sports fan.
This all started to change when I saw the United States’ performance in the 2014 World Cup. Placed in what some called “The Group of Death,” the United States advanced out of the group stage but lost to Belgium in the round of 16. I was angry about the loss but even prouder of the U.S. team, and above all, excited about soccer for the first time in my life. It wasn’t until two years later, though, that I finally understood my friend’s passion. This was in the wake of the 2016 Copa América when the United States lost in the semi-finals to Argentina. I got so excited about soccer after that tournament that I went home and became a fan of the English Premier League. I am entering my third season supporting Chelsea and I can tell you: being a soccer fan is a worthwhile endeavor.
Why is it worthwhile? There are a few reasons. For one, the game is very likely on the upswing. Most casual observers know that soccer hasn’t quite caught on in the United States the way baseball, basketball or football have. There are several reasons for this. Obviously, we have never won a World Cup nor have we come particularly close. American professional soccer has not caught up to its foreign competitors. Nevertheless, we will get better. Armed with a new roster and a new coach after the sacking of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. Men’s National Team will likely qualify for the 2022 World Cup, which will bring fresh interest to the sport. Then, of course, the U.S. will play its part in hosting the 2026 tournament, which will shine an even brighter light on the game.
But even aside from the World Cup, soccer is simply a fun sport to follow. Major League Soccer, the highest league of American professional soccer, may not be the highest quality league in the world. But that doesn’t stop me from wearing my New York City Football Club jersey on match days, with David Villa’s number 7 on the back (I used to wear Frank Lampard’s number 8, but then he retired. I am thankful that, for at least one season, I had the privilege of watching a Chelsea legend play for my team). Likewise, on Chelsea match days, I’ll probably wear my bright yellow Chelsea jersey. You could do the same. Find a team, watch their matches (most are available to stream online, completely legally) and be a fan. I chose Chelsea because Alex Rider, the titular character of a children’s book series that I used to read, supported them, but make your own choice. Choose a team for its history. Its cool uniforms. Its charismatic star player. I chose for a far less compelling reason, and the next day I was watching a match and jumping off the couch as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa scored on the way to a 2-1 win over West Ham United Football Club.
There are a few reasons why soccer is so much fun to follow. There’s the game itself: as a sport, soccer is almost unrivaled in combined action and athleticism. All the pitiful arguments I used to make against the sport have fallen apart now that I actually watch the matches. There is plenty of action, scoring is perfectly paced and there is rarely a dull moment. Perhaps most importantly, play continues uninterrupted by commercials for 45-minute stretches. Talk about breaking out of a bubble — there are no TV timeouts during either half of a soccer game, and it’s a joy to experience.
But there’s more than the games. There’s also the sense of global connection that soccer brings, being the world’s most popular sport. I can watch or talk soccer with almost anyone and share a unique connection over a sport that most of the world loves. I, for one, know that soccer has helped pull me out of my star-spangled bubble and given me a greater appreciation for sports on the global scale. How do I know this? My new favorite player, Eden Hazard, was on the team that eliminated the United States from the 2014 World Cup. I don’t even harbor any resentment for our defeat at his hands: I just sit back and watch him score goals for Chelsea, and wait for the next World Cup, because I know that I am a fan of the world’s game now.