SAVELA: Giving in to World Cup fever

Time was ticking down in the final game of my short-lived soccer career, and it was running out on my dream of scoring a goal.

I was in fourth grade, had played nearly three full seasons of soccer, and with two left feet didn’t have a single statistic to my name.

Until that day.

I haven’t a clue how time moves for real athletes in their moments of glory, but I know for me it all happened in slow motion. Granted, it was more so literally than figuratively.

I found myself dribbling the ball on a breakaway for the first time in my pathetic career — just me and the goalie, but with defenders and teammates hot on my trail. Knowing I had just a split-second to shoot, I let it rip as best I could, which is to say I struck the top of the ball with my toe, fell flat on my back, and watched it roll toward the net slower than I could have crawled there. 

But it was on target.

Fortunately for me, the opposing goalkeeper was worse at keeping a goal than I was at scoring one. Slowly but surely, that ball was going in and all that was left to do was watch. With my butt on the ground and my arms already in the air, I watched it roll, I watched the goalie trip on his shoelaces, and in my head I watched myself get carried off the field in celebration.

Then I watched something interesting: a teammate of mine catch up to the shot and punch it in herself at the goal line. She rejoiced as my arms fell back down to Earth.

An assist never felt so devastating. I passed up on a post-game Oatmeal Creme Pie, threw away my flimsy shin guards, and swore off soccer for life.

Until today.

Jermaine Jones, top, of Team USA and Toni Kroos of Germany vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup at Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, on June 26. (MCT Photo)

Jermaine Jones, top, of Team USA and Toni Kroos of Germany vie for the ball during the FIFA World Cup at Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, on June 26. (MCT Photo)

I’m giving in to World Cup fever as Team USA pursues its first-ever title. I’ll swallow my pride, let go of my past on the pitch, and watch as our country takes on Belgium at 4 p.m. with a chance to advance to the quarterfinals.

I was at a restaurant recently as the U.S. played one of its group games, and it was being broadcast on every television in the building. I thought I didn’t care, because I don’t know Clint Dempsey from Patrick Dempsey and my aforementioned assist still stings. I just wanted to focus on my wet burrito and leave.

I noticed, however, that the family to my right had a couple young boys, each donning their United States soccer jerseys and matching caps. In the booth behind me sat an elderly couple, the husband explaining the finer points of what they call “the beautiful game” to his wife as they both watched. And from the bar, I heard a collective cheer as United States quickly went up a goal.

It reminded me: sports are at their best when they unite, on the field and off of it, from the bar full of hooligans to the family of five in their living room.

A team can give fans from all walks of life something to talk about, and I want in on the conversation.

There are still some things I don’t understand about soccer, like why the clock counts up, how every injury appears to be a life-or-death situation, or what gave Laura the nerve to ruin my would-be goal. I mean, seriously, she scored like seven already that season … OK, deep breath.

Today it doesn’t matter. Whether celebrating a win or grieving a loss, albeit briefly, we’ll do it together, the goal scorers and the accidental assistants alike.

avatar

Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.