Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thankful (and a story for your enjoyment)

As I plow through a bowl of Honey Comb this rainy Thanksgiving morning, I wanted to pause and take a moment to publicly state what I'm thankful for this year.

Now mind you, since this is a soccer blog, I'm thankful for alot of aspects of my life that aren't soccer-related, but by no means do I intentionally exclude my family, friends, food in my belly, a roof over my head, a flat-screen computer to stare at endlessly into the wee hours, etc. They are all important to me, some more than others, obviously. So with that disclaimer out of the way, here's a little story about my soccer journey, and some accompanying "thank you's."

World Cup '94: This is the genesis in terms of my passion for soccer. I can trace a clear line from that event to my current love for soccer. My VoVo ("grandma" - yes, I'm Portuguese and proud of it!) had subscribed to "Sports Illustrated For Kids" for me to read whenever I visited her apartment. The cover of the June '94 issue had Alexi Lalas and Cobi Jones, while the entire issue was devoted to the upcoming World Cup, which would be making its first stop in the States during its history. I read through the issue, and with my Vovo having also having the foresight of having sports stuff for her grandchildren to play with, I soon picked up the soccer ball and headed out to her backyard with the intent of playing something other than kickball with it. Although I would soon throw the idea in the back of my mind, the seed was nonetheless planted.

Fast forward to 1999 - my mom invites me to watch the US Women's National Team face the Ireland squad with her at Foxboro Stadium. The US WNT, fresh off their World Cup success that summer, routed the Irish women 5-0. I specifically recall how big Brandi Chastain's arms were. These women weren't messing around. And once although I was genuinely impressed and entertained, the seed, although no longer dormant, wasn't close to blossoming anytime soon.

Spring, 2000. The most random time period to have my interest once again fall square into the throes of the sport. No World Cup, no invitations to see a soccer game. Nonetheless, I asked my dad to pick up a soccer ball for me at Sports Authority while running some errands that day. I also remember wanting to buy a Revs jersey there, but as a broke college student, I had to save up for one. My friend, who shall remain nameless, tried to steal me one instead. He was unsuccessful. And once again, although the seed developed, it still hadn't sprung, just yet.

Summer, 2002. Perhaps the most casual following of soccer during this timeline. No purchases of soccer balls, theft of team jerseys, or attendance at a match this year. Highlighted by the furthest advancement of a US team at that year's World Cup in Japan/South Korea, I found myself with a rooting interest prior to the team's match vs. Germany one day after my 22nd birthday. Although I didn't stay up to watch the game on TV (I believe it was a 2:30am local start, given the time difference), another blip on the soccer radar came...and went.

Now this is where it gets good...

February, 2006. Two days before Super Bowl XL, I attend a P-Bruins game and begin thinking about picking up a cheap soccer ball to kick around for the weekend. No, I don't know how or why the thought leapfrogged into my subconscious at a hockey game. It's beside the point really, because approximately 18 hours later, I find myself kicking around a $15 Nike soccer ball on a local baseball field. The unusually mild February afternoon allowed me to do this for a good 45 minutes without getting frostbite. With the mild temps lingering the next day was well, and my Patriots out of the playoffs, I found myself kicking around the ball on Super Bowl Sunday as well.

Then, while doing my usual Saturday chores out of boredom, and with a good 15-17 inches of fresh snow on the ground, I find my TV fixated on a US MNT match vs. Japan at Pac Bell Park/Monster Park in San Francisco. I watch with somewhat of a rooting interest as I go backj and forth between Oxycleaning my laundry, organizing my massive jersey and hat collection, and noshing on dry cereal. Although the following weeks were somewhat inattentive to the sport, I still watched the US MNT vs. Guatemala and Norway on TV.

I start researching the Revs upcoming 2006 schedule while at work. First game is April 1 at LA Galaxy. Their first home game wouldn't take place until nearly a month later on the 30th. Undeterred, I stay home on the night of April 1, a Saturday night, and at 11am, I click on espn2 to watch the Revs play the Galaxy. With the company of the espn2 broadcast team and a bowl of cereal (sensing a theme?) I watch Clint Dempsey bury a corner kick to give the Revs the only goal they'd need as they went on to win, 1-0. Damn, another 29 days 'til I get to see them live at Gillette.

Funny thing about that first home game: I purchased a ticket to the Job Fair at that very venue for $25, which coincidentally, also included a ticket to the Revs game vs. Chicago later on at 3pm. As some of my fellow job-seeking cohorts being talking about Revs players (to which I nod and agree, say "really?" "wow!" "I had no idea..." whenever a soccer-related point is made), I stick around afterward to watch the game. Hell, what else was I gonna do on a Sunday afternoon? I stay for the first half, and inexplicably, leave before the start of the second half. It was somewhat cool out, and I attribute not feeling the most comfortable watching a game in my $750 Calvin Klein "job interview" suit as my reason for the early exit. However, I made it a point to return for the next game vs. LA. I did. I loved it, even though I had no idea just yet what was going on in front of me.

And game, after game, after game, I picked up on it. Between overhearing what constituted offsides and what necessitated a corner kick, I gradually learned. I purchased "Soccer for Dummies", and excellent book for unfamiliar bystanders. And from there, I attend a host of matches, including a US MNT friendly vs. Latvia in Hartford, their final stateside tune-up prior to the '06 World Cup.

I took an unprecedented early (and extended) lunch to watch US MNT vs. Czech Republic. I played fantasy WC soccer for the first time. I watch the following match vs. Italy on one of Gillette's big screens with a hundred or so soccer nuts, and to this day, one of the gutsiest games, in any sport, I've ever watched. I painstakingly missed their final match vs. Ghana as I roadtripped down the eastern seaboard with my godparents and cousins. Thank God for cell phones and a TV at a random rest stop off the Jersey turnpike, where I watched the final 10 minutes of the match, knowing this would be it for our guys. Sporting my 2002 USA jersey, I was resolved to continue to support not only our national squad, but soccer in general.

I later find out that a local minor league soccer team played right in my own backyard. The RI StingRays of the PDL branch of the USL played their matches about a mile and a half away at Pierce Field. I watched the remainder of their home matches from June through the end of July. Meanwhile, the only Revs match I miss is their July 1 tilt vs. NY Red Bull while at Lime Rock Park watching road racing with my brother and buddies of ours. Believe me, after the sun beating down on me all afternoon, I would have made an early exit to get a head start in time to catch the game if I had the energy.

Throughout the summer, I collected soccer cards, bought soccer jerseys, chanted "SU-PER, SU-PER-REV-O-LOOO-TION!" while at work, and proudly emblazoned my car with a Revolution sticker. The seed planted 12 years ago finally blossomed. The plant, watered with the friendships, games, and memorable summer moments had now grown strong.

And for that, after wasting up to five minutes of your life before getting to the original point of this entry, I wish to thank the following people. My VoVo, for providing me the inspiration to follow the sport. My mom, for dragging me to the US WNT match in '99, to which I had a blast at. My friend Jenn Vargas, for being the only one of my friends nutty enough to watch soccer with me. Tony Biscaia, to which the door to world of soccer was already open, he opened ten more that I had no idea of. The Revolution staff, especially Lizz Summers and Brad Feldman, for allowing me access to the team in order to make this blog more insightful, although I still have much to learn about soccer. Your patience is much appreciated. The Revolution players and coaches, all of whom were extraordinarily polite to me when appraoched for an autograph or an interview. I also want to thak the Revs fans on the bigsoccer board, all of whom have been very gracious to me.

There you have it. Although you had to sit through my uninspiring memories for me to reach my ultimate point, I thank you, my readers, for allowing me to paint a picture for you on a regular basis. I hope you continue to enjoy my little insights and reports. If not, the door is always open to unabashed criticisms, to which I will surely smile at, and attain a certain feeling of notoriety.

Thank you all.


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