Since 1930 the world of football has had an international tournament. This tournament has taken place every four years, except when World War II put the whole planet in question. What makes this tournament so amazing? Is it that the whole world has a chance no matter how large the nation may be? Is it HOPE?
My first memory of the World Cup hype started around 1988 when I was playing in the youth program of North Charleroi. The US National team was in the process of qualifying to play in Italy 1990. I remember when Paul Caligiuri scored that day against Trinidad & Tobago. If you ever watched the Pittsburgh Spirit take a minute to listen to JP Dellacamera make the call of the US goes to Italy.
After playing high school and classic league soccer for the next four years, battling a broken thumb and separated shoulder as a competitive goalkeeper, the world came to the United States in 1994. I remember driving with my family to see Norway vs Ireland in Giant’s Stadium in 1994. This was way before GPS Technology so the whole experience of going to New York City and New Jersey was definitely out of my dad’s comfort zone. We managed to get breakfast in Kearney, NJ before the game, if you know anything about US Soccer history you will know that was the center of the national team. Once in the parking lot at the Meadowlands there was a whole lot of soaking in the sounds and sights of the fans who travelled to the US for this tournament. The atmosphere made going to a Steeler game at Three Rivers Stadium seem very tame, since the singing and drumming started before the game and ended 30 minutes after the final whistle. I can compare it around the same level of being at Beaver Stadium to see Penn State in the student section and watching the Detroit Red Wings hoist the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh. There is no love greater than country and football.
Driving home yesterday and listening to the USA vs Wales game on the radio gave me a chance to pause and reflect on the past 8 years. I was travelling with my mother-in-law who will admit that sports in general is not her bailiwick. Listening to the entire game was a new adventure for her. At halftime I explained the how and why of the tournament, but that really doesn’t cover the global passion for this tournament. However, I did explain that we needed to schedule our Black Friday Turkey time after the USA vs England game. During our drive on I-65 in Tennessee we heard the goal call for Tim Weah and I did a little dance in my drivers seat. As we picked up our Hattie B’s Hot Chicken for LINNER, we heard the penalty whistle that equalized the game for Wales. The reflection for me came when I realized the last time I was sharing a US World Cup game was 8 years ago. The US not qualifying the tournament in Russia allowed the country to avoid the embarrassment that was bound to happen between our President at the time and that of Russia. As this tournament is being played without Russia and we are all reflecting on what is happening to the Ukrainian people it is a reminder that humanity is bigger than the game.
Why was this heartwarming and a little sad for me. Personally, the last time the national team was playing in the Copa Mundial I was sitting around 8 years ago in Greensburg sports bar with my mom hoping that the US could move on in the tournament. I had scheduled a half day off from work to join her to watch the game. Nothing like taking an afternoon off to watch agame broadcast from France in the middle of an American workday, but that was just one of those things we did over the World Cup. Football is the one sport that the whole world plays. The spirit of the game connects humanity on every continent. It reminded me of those mother’s days where she would come to the game I had to ref and then we’d do family dinner. I’m sure if she was watching my latest coaching gig, she’d be wondering where else this sport would take me.
Where will you be when the US plays England this Friday?