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I’m an American and so I have a complex relationship with the sport the rest of the world calls football. Growing up in the 90’s, soccer was a common sport for children to play. My parents gave me the option of playing soccer or taking martial arts, and I chose martial arts. I remember the World Cup being promoted in 1994 and the debut of MLS. I knew the name Pele but he was probably the only soccer/football player I could have named until sometime in the early 2000’s when David Beckham finally showed up on my radar. Then Wayne Rooney and eventually I started recognizing other names like Messi, Ronaldo, along with team names like Arsenal and Manchester United.

In 2002, I picked up a copy of FIFA World Cup 2002 at Blockbuster. The game didn’t rent well, so it was being sold off for $4.99 and I figured I could squeeze five dollars of enjoyment out of the game. So, I took the game home, sat in awe at the spectacle presented on screen and then tried to figure out what the heck I was doing and why I kept getting called offsides. I gave up after half an hour or so and failed to get my money’s worth.

In the late 2000’s, I read an article about MyFootballClub, a crowd-funded initiative to purchase the Ebbsfleet United F.C. The idea was fans would pool their money, purchase the club, and then vote on decisions such as the lineups, coaches, etc.

I thought this was an amazing idea and I wanted to get in on the fun. I mean, when else could I say I owned a professional sports team? So, I made a payment and bought my share and decided to be a responsible owner I needed to learn the game.

YouTube wasn’t quite as useful for learning the rules as it would be today, so I decided the next best thing would be to see some soccer in-person first. Local to me was the Carolina Railhawks now known as the NC Football Club, a minor league soccer team who share the same stadium with the NWSL’s Carolina Courage. I bought a ticket to the next Railhawks game, and unbeknownst to me I had purchased a ticket in the fan section. It wasn’t the best seat view wise, but man was it fun. The fans were going nuts, a drumline joined them, and well… I just wasn’t expecting that.

I attended one other Railhawks game and began picking up on the nuances of the game. I respected the amount of running these athletes did. It was quite impressive.

Still, I struggled to understand everything and the best way to learn is to do it sometimes. For a moment, I thought about trying to find an adult league to learn the game, but my search fizzled very quickly. There weren’t any relaxed leagues around and everything was super competitive, so I decided to do the next best thing. I picked up another (newer copy) of FIFA. Thankfully this time around, the game had been updated and had an excellent tutorial. I finally figured out that darn offsides rule!

I got a little soccer/football fever. I found the game to be exciting and with the 2010 World Cup around the corner it felt like a great time to jump on the soccer bandwagon. I know the United States doesn’t do well in men’s football, but I was still excited to see what the game had in store. I sat down to watch Ghana take on the United States.

I enjoyed the game until the end. It was clear the United States was going to lose, and that wasn’t the issue for me. What was an issue was the fake injuries. The withering around on the ground and then jumping up like nothing happened. This sort of deception and unsportsmanlike conduct disgusted me. I was unaware of the “magic water” and well… I haven’t watched a full soccer game since.

In the past fourteen years, I’ve continued to play FIFA. I don’t follow any specific clubs nor players, so I just bounce around and enjoy the game play mechanics. I usually buy old games cheap since the rosters do not matter, but this year EA FC 24 managed to entice me to open up my wallet with huge sales on their game. I bought EA FC 24 on Xbox first for $13.99 and then on Switch for $17.99. I was disappointed to see that Ted Lasso was no longer in the game, and honestly there wasn’t much of a difference between 23 and 24. I was excited to see the Switch get a proper version of FIFA/EA FC this year and I’ve played way more on Switch than I did on Xbox.

Over the past fourteen years since the last World Cup game I watched, football has grown significantly in the United States. We are about to host the next World Cup (along with Canada and Mexico), MLS has expanded (including a team here in North Carolina), and a professional women’s league was launched. Welcome to Wrexham and Ted Lassobecame a huge hits and of course, you can’t discount the popularity of Messi and the excitement that he brings to the United States soccer community, nor can you ignore Apple TV’s promotion of the sport and excellent coverage.

Today, I’ll watch a few minutes of an MLS game here or there while flipping channels and occasionally a few minutes of a Premiere League game, but my love affair with the sport was extremely short lived. Maybe three or four months, almost fifteen years ago. I wish I could get past the fake injuries, but just like flopping in basketball and hockey, I just can’t. It bugs me too much. So, maybe soccer isn’t for me, but I’m glad to see the sport expand and I’m happy to see the United States take a bit more of an interest in it. I really think the next twenty years will potentially be really big for football in America. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Published in#WeblogPoMo2024Sports

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