Malcomb: A 40-year-old soccer convert
Something odd has happened to me over the past couple of weeks. Rather late in life, I find myself more drawn to soccer.
This isn’t really surprising — it’s the World Cup and soccer is everywhere the past two weeks, even in the notoriously soccer averse and conspicuously absent U.S. But by my count, this is the 11th time the World Cup has been played in my 40 years on the planet, and this is the first time I’ve ever rearranged my schedule for games. I’m even rewatching games when I know already know the final score.
Soccer was always tough for me. My dad didn’t play when he was a kid and so it wasn’t something we did when I was young. We threw the football or baseball around or we’d go shoot hoops on the goal he built when I was a kid. I never understood the nuance of the game.
Nevermind the trauma of my first assignment as a freelance sports reporter. I had to come up with 500 words on a 0-0 tie in a high school game when I lived on the East Coast. I’m telling you, soccer — you almost lost me there.
This year, I started watching here and there. It really got rolling after I ran the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon a couple of weeks ago and I put on a game afterward. I don’t know if I was hooked yet, but I was interested. Despite the fact that out of three goals scored in two games, I missed all three. (Give me a break; I was sleepy.)
The turning point came last week when I was watching Argentina play Nigeria in a win-or-go-home match. Los Gauchos were on the verge of elimination when Marcos Rojo punched a volley into the net and I got up off the couch and screamed. Seriously, my wife asked what was wrong.
It reminded me of one of those special plays that always makes me sit up and take notice in that other league I love: the NBA. It reminded me of a Chris Paul pass to Deandre Jordan or one of those incredible chase down blocks by LeBron James.
The Argentina goal was my “ah-ha” moment. I realized there might be as much in common with soccer as there is in the NBA. There are players to love — consider me a fan of Rojos and that Neymar goal the other day has me thinking about jumping on his bandwagon — and players to hate. Namely, Luis Suarez.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever used his name. I usually refer to him as “You know, that dude, the biter.”
As the World Cup winds down over the next week or so and both teams I was rooting for are out, I’m searching for a new soccer fix. That means I’ve got to find a team to root for. I want to root for FC Barcelona because — well, I went to Barcelona earlier this year and had an incredible time.
Problem? That dude — the biter — plays for FC Barcelona.
So, I’m officially a free agent fan. Who should I root for and why? Maybe I should look past the biter being on the team and go with my gut and FC Barcelona. Maybe I should pick a team from the Bundesliga — mainly because I like saying “Bundesliga.”
Premier League? Major League Soccer? I’m not enthralled by that one because even though it has “major league” in its name, it still feels kind of minor.
It’s not often you get a 40-year-old convert, so tell me who I should root for and why. I’ll let you know how it goes and maybe I’ll tell you the problem with penalty kicks.
Jamey Malcomb is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle.