A a kid, I didn’t get to go to many games. My mother truly enjoys watching sports, but attending them has never been her thing. Despite my burning passion for the Lions, I didn’t go to a game until I was old enough to get to the Silverdome myself. I turn 30 this year—but as a committed father of three with a 90-minute drive to Detroit, season tickets aren’t yet within my grasp. I make it to a just couple of Lions and Tigers games a year, plus a smattering of Michigan State contests. So, there’s still a special excitement, a zinging flutter, that comes with buying tickets, with holding tickets, with waking up on a gameday morning and knowing I’ll be there.
Today, my nerves are electrified. Me, my wife, and our two elder kids are going to see the USMNT play a real live game that matters tonight, live and in person, and I can hardly believe it. All of my favorite soccer reporters and bloggers are in the Motor City today. All of the usual match previews I devour are tinged with Detroit flavor—and knowing I’ll actually be seeing the game they’re previewing live, not my laptop, not tape-delayed, not in Spanish, and not on ESPN 8: The Ocho or Fox Soccer Channel Plus .TV—makes them doubly delicious.
One of the very best soccer blogs, The Shin Guardian, laid out the Xs and Os of the “Motown Showdown” beautifully. The Yanks Are Coming, a USMNT blog, also put out a top notch preview piece called—what else?—"Detroit Rock City: Everybody’s Gonna Leave Their Seat." Ives Galarcep, Fox Soccer commentator and author of Soccer By Ives, Tweeted last night that Slows BBQ is "OFFICIAL." The Free Beer Movement, an awesome site dedicated to building American soccer through the gift of free beer, assembled an expert panel (Michigan native Alexi Lalas included) to assign a Gold Cup beer to each competing team.
The crazy thing is, at this time last year, I didn’t care. I’d been vaguely aware of the USMNT’s incredible run to the finals of the 2009 Confederations Cup, including an incredible 2-0 defeat of Spain, the best team in the world. I sensed a lot of buzz building around last year’s World Cup, and I discovered that many of the sports bloggers I admire most—Brian Cook of MGoBlog, Spencer Hall of EDSBS, Dan Levy of On the DL Podcast—are huge USMNT fans (all of those links go to exceptional content, especially Hall’s piece on the meaning of being a USMNT supporter. Click them).
So . . . I tuned in. I watched. I found that much of what I loved the most about hockey—the winding and unwinding of tension, the cat-and-mouse game of possession, the desperate anxiety of a centering pass, the anguish of a whiffed opportunity, the relief of an amazing save, the physics-defying feats that leave your eyes wide and jaw slack—it was all there in soccer, too. Soon, I cared. I really cared. I found myself wrapped up more and more in the success and failure of our national team—and with this moment, I was inexorably hooked:
After the end of the World Cup, I posted a piece called “Time Wonderfully Wasted,” the story of my WC2010 experience, and my blossoming soccer fandom. It had lain dormant within me, a seed planted when I attended a World Cup match as a child. I’d supported Italy throughout that tournament—partly because I come from an Italian-American family, and partly because in the soccer world, Italy was totally way awesomer than America. Those reasons weren’t really reasons, and my support of Italy lasted only as long as that tournament did.
“Choosing” a team to root for has never felt right to me; I’ve been a true-blue Lions fan since before I can remember. “Deciding” to care about a team I haven’t always lived and died with seemed impossible. But the USMNT? Their support was literally my birthright, and donning red, white, and blue once felt like always.
Tonight, my wife and kids will be wearing their colors, too. We’ll be in the Ford Field stands at 8 o’clock tonight, supporting our national team live for the very first time. The American Outlaws will be there, the Motor City Supporters will be there, and if you snag some tickets you can be there, too [Ed.: use promo code “GC11”]. I hope it’ll be an amazing experience, one that will plant a seed of fandom inside them . . . and maybe, just maybe, they won’t have to wait sixteen years for for it to sprout.