My love affair with soccer took flight in 1985 during my senior year in high school. Up to that point, I had played American football and baseball, and ran cross country and track all with adequate degrees of success, yet none of them managed to singularly captivate me. My senior year, I took my speed and endurance from cross-country and track, combined them with my adequate soccer skills and walked on to the field for varsity tryouts. By the time our team kicked off the first game of the season, I was the starting left fullback and team captain; my world of sports would never be the same.
Three years later, I found myself standing in the center of Gouda, Holland amid an intense, near-deafening crowd of very vocal orange-clad supporters as Marco van Basten ran onto the receiving end of a long cross and volleyed the ball past the Soviet goalkeeper into the net to put the exclamation mark on Holland’s EURO 1988 championship. As the referee blew the final whistle, a scene unfolded before me the likes I had never witnessed. Gouda’s historic town center quickly teamed with a sea of orange-clad revelers and kicked off a celebration that lasted well past the dawn of the following day. The same scene played out in cities, towns and villages all over the country; the Queen proclaimed the following day a national holiday. Memories of that experience burned deep into my psyche. Soccer had entered my bloodstream.
Hungering for another taste, I left the shores of my home country again to return to the well. In 1992, I was in Rotterdam when Ronald Koeman sent home one of his patented free kicks and Dennis Bergkamp slipped the side of an English defender and sent the ball into the near corner of the net past a diving David Seaman to give the Dutch a 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory over England. That feeling had returned and I was satiated.
In the years following, I attended a variety of high-profile American sports events, including the 1998 BCS college football championship game between Tennessee and Florida and Game 7 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks. In both instances, I reveled in the resulting celebratory eruptions yet, in the end, the neither seemed to rise to the level of my previous soccer experiences.
With Major League Soccer recently established and slowly growing its fan base with organized supporter groups, the seeds of soccer’s singular atmosphere began to take root, but still needed further nourishment and development. Still, as I watched MLS in its early years, I reveled in what promised to become a vehicle to satisfy my cravings for adrenalin-laced scenes of soccer sensory overload.
Several more years passed by and I once again travelled abroad for another taste. In 2008, I found myself in the midst of a scene similar to the one in Gouda, when I watched with thousands of avid German supporters in Heidelberg as Germany squared off against Spain for the EURO 2008 title. Even in defeat, I felt the surge of passion and anticipation in my blood. Once again I was satisfied, but I still wanted more.
Going mobile, I found myself in Lisbon when Benfica won the 2010 Portuguese league championship; a few weeks later, I was in London when Chelsea won the 2010 FA Cup at Wembley. A month later, I was in Bratislava when Slovakia upset Italy in the 2010 World Cup. With scenes from 1988 forever vivid in my mind, I journeyed to Maastricht, Holland to watch the Dutch battle Spain in the World Cup final. Between airfares, hotels, taxis, trains and undergrounds, the costs of my addiction had easily transcended that of any garden variety physical addiction.
Vowing to spare myself from further expense, I returned to my home country and took up residence in central Texas, three hours from FC Dallas’s Pizza Hut Park – the nearest professional soccer facility. With MLS having grown and developed nicely in the intervening years, it wasn’t long until the cravings returned and I knew I had to have more. FC Dallas and Houston Dynamo are located relatively nearby and thus are obvious candidates for delivering a quick fix when my cravings begin to mount. Still, with an ever growing and increasingly fertile soccer supporter culture popping up in more locations across North America, I resolved to pick and choose my key matches and locations for my major indulgences.
And so, this past March, I found myself in downtown Seattle on a rainy afternoon holding a scarf over my head and marching to Qwest Field with MLS Commissioner Don Garber and thousands of Emerald City supporters for the 2011 MLS First Kick match between Sounders FC and LA Galaxy. The songs, chants and even the red flares took me back to those past moments in Europe; I’m proud to say the scene in Seattle more than satisfied my cravings. Most recently, Juan Agudelo’s tying goal against Argentina in a friendly in New Jersey – and the accompanying cheers and chants from the US supporters – has again satisfied my cravings … for now.
Anticipating the returning pangs of my affliction, I’ve taken precautions by already penciling in a slate of well-chosen MLS matches – including some friendlies versus top-tier English Premier League sides, Gold Cup matches and World Cup qualifiers. Such is the life of an American soccer addict; but don’t bother trying to help me, I don’t want to be cured.