Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

With New Year's soon upon us, and the hedonists worldwide swearing off junk food, smoking, procrastinating, and other vices once the ball dropped at 12:00am, I offer you the personal story of my conversion to soccer, and the belief that anything is possible with an open mind. Now, I don't wish to bore and beat you over the head with clich├ęs and tired theories. Rather, it is my firm belief in the difference a year can truly and undeniably make within a person and how your humble scrivener was born again and converted to the wonderful sport of soccer.

The journey starts at this time last year. I was planning a spontaneous trip to Cleveland with my buddy Nate to see a Browns-Ravens game on New Year's Day. Tickets bought, directions printed, and snacks packed, the furthest thing from my mind was soccer. Soccer? FOOTBALL! I mean real American football! Not futbol, that boring game that nobody cares about. Ha! That very belief -a belief that I held for nearly my entire sports life-was on its deathbed, with the "Do Not Resuscitate" note on its respirator.

A door never opened was finally unlocked and I peered into cautiously. It began innocently enough with the quick swipe of the debit card for a $15 soccer ball with the intent of tricking me into doing some cardiovascular exercise during the winter. Soon after, I journeyed to the nearest open field to work up a good sweat with my latest diversion in tow. Within days, I found myself fixated on the telly as the US Men’s National Team played the Japanese on espn2. What in the hell??? How could this be? I was actually watching soccer without cracking snide comments and holding the derogatory attitude I developed over the years toward this sport. I wasn't cursing it or calling it the red-headed stepchild (see: Danny Bonaduce pre-debauchery) of sports. Rather...I was enjoying it. Not since Tony Montana waxed Sosa’s assassin, Alberto, before he detonated the car bomb has such a change of heart occurred. (Look at you now!)

For some reason, I followed up and checked the interweb to see when the team was playing again. Who am I? What form of trickery allowed this shift in attitude to occur? An unhealthy curiosity had set in. Like Jason Biggs eyeing the freshly-baked apple pie in American Pie, I poked the crust with my fingers to feel the sensation. (To keep this column PG, I'll end the comparison there). With the crust punctured, I saw myself watching more and more games on TV. Another US MNT game here, an MLS match there, and just for flavor, a Telemundo-cast game to which the only words I could comprende were "rapido", "pelota" and "GOAAAAAAAAAAL!!!"

Within months, my curiosity became a full-blown obsession- the kind that drew Ray Kinsella to plow down his cornfield to build a baseball field in Field of Dreams. Don't believe me? Take a look at the crudely-constructed, PVC-piped 5' x 7' goal in my backyard. Within the perimeter reside three soccer balls, all of which I kick around at length when the conditions allow for it. Truly, my home pitch has become a veritable 1:100th scale Wembley Stadium, with bright lights and hooligans the only aspects absent.

The only thing more amazing than that is the outward transformation. On January 1, 2006, I found myself in walking down E. 9th Street in downtown Cleveland in full Browns regalia (I moonlight as a Browns fan when the Pats aren't playing - go ahead, question my loyalty), without any regards (or adequate knowledge) for the world's game. Today, December 29, 2006, I write this entry with my Revs hoodie on and a giant poster of Clint Dempsey behind me, listening to Rhianna's "S.O.S" (often blared at Gillette Stadium prior to the opening whistle).

Adding to the preposterousness of it all, here I am on in front of my laptop, as a soccer writer (I use the term loosely). A soccer writer! What magical and surreal path did I venture off to? Mind you, the actual writing itself is not the stunner. Writing has always been a passion of mine, and I had previously applied it regularly to a popular Red Sox-themed website before my current soccer-inspired incarnation took the controls. And yet, as the baseball season sprang last April, I found myself more fixated on the Revs than the Red Sox. Before I knew it, my interest in the world’s game, combined with my passion of the pen, resulted in aforementioned ingredients to intermingle, and thus here I am.

So before 2007 rings in with the promise of better days that each New Year brings, I submit to you for illustration purposes, that I, Brian O'Connell, the once-professed soccer detractor, am now a certified soccer nut.

What a difference a year can make indeed.

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