Soccer jones.

There’s only 296 days until World Cup 2006.

Just in case you’re keeping track, that is.

I say this only because I’ve felt a renaissance within myself, so to speak – my once superficial attention to soccer (or football as the rest of the world knows it) is swelling up again, threatening to actually become something worthwhile. It seems that everywhere I go something springs up to make me appreciate what many call the “beautiful” sport.

I never liked soccer before. Sorry, let me rephrase that. Like many people in the United States, I didn’t care about soccer. Soccer was a game played in gym class and pushed by over-protective parents who didn’t like the thought of their kids playing American football. I was too young to ever see Pelé play, and I didn’t live in a city that had a Major League Soccer team, so I really had no need to pay attention to it.

Two things changed that. I started to pay attention when:

1. The United States won the Women’s World Cup in the summer of 1999. This didn’t mean much to me at the time, but eventually I realized the significance of a United States team beating everyone else in a sport that the country didn’t even care about. The 1999 World Cup even got a few of us watch our first professional soccer matches on television (spurred by our friend of Argentine decent, Andy – a natural at loving soccer because of his countries almost fanatical devotion to their top ranked national squad.)

That World Cup also became well known for it’s classic images of soccer women tearing their shirts off and revealing their sports bras, but that’s for another time.

2. I visited England, and they apparently like the sport a lot over there. This is what really fueled my sudden “love” for soccer – a desire to be all things “anglophilic” (which, coincidentally, is a word I just made up.) I needed an English team to follow, regardless of how knowledgeable I’d ever become, and I couldn’t possibly root for someone so obvious as Arsenal or Manchester Untied. Instead I chose Liverpool – a team that is perennially in the championship hunt but never quite manages to make it. They’re the Indiana Pacers of the Premier League. They also advertise Carlsburg beer on their jerseys.

Eventually, through the help of FIFA 2002 for Playstation 2 and Fox Sports World (the 24 hour soccer and rugby channel) I managed to actually look like a real soccer fan. It all culminated with World Cup 2002. The tournament was being held in Korea, so I would find myself taping England matches at 1:00 in the morning and watching them later. I openly rooted for England despite being a member of the United States, and I even set my alarm for 2:30 in the morning in order to watch the England vs. Brazil semi-final match – a match which England lost, but not before scoring the only goal Brazil allowed in the entire 16 team final tournament.

It was pretty sick. Ask Kerrie. I was obsessing about it, and with the games so early in the morning, it wasn’t healthy for me to be even caring about them. But, for a short amount of time, I was a true soccer fan, even trying to schedule the start of our 2002 vacation to Idaho around the ending of the Brazil-Germany final.

Where does that put me now? Well, through a series of unconnected, but soccer-related, occurrences I am slowly working myself up to the dubious title of “soccer-enthusiast.” I’ve just finished reading a book called How Soccer Explains The World, a piece dedicated to explaining globalization and class violence through the world’s obsession with soccer, and I’ve finally bought Fever Pitch – the original one based on Hornby’s novel of the same name. I’ve slowly started paying attention to how the national teams are doing.

I was surprised to find that our countries’ national squad has managed to reach previously unforeseen heights – they are ranked sixth in the world. The world! We don’t even have a viable professional league for soccer in the United States, and we’ve managed to land ourselves that high in the FIFA rankings? What’s next?

All this has come together to rekindle the soccer hysteria. Thankfully, the World Cup is in Germany this year, so I won’t have to watch games at 1 am. They’ll be on at 7 am instead.

Oh well. I guess I can’t win them all. I’ll just have to get the VCR ready and wait.

After all, there’s only 296 days left.

This was lovingly handwritten on August 17th, 2005