By Chris Rios
Love is a strong word. In my early years, I told a girl I loved her then rescinded the sentiment the next day (that relationship didn’t last long…). But really, love is a BIG deal. It’s a word that should be reserved for most meaningful circumstances. I love my family. I love my friends. And, well… I love the game of soccer. It might seem foolish to group soccer into a class as important as family. I mean didn’t our parents always tell us after a tough loss, it’s just a game. To an outsider, surely it seems silly, I know. Your friends and family have showered you with support, love and comfort, but soccer, what has a game given you? How can you truly love something that gives you nothing back in return? To those who know the game they know that soccer is a game, yes, but a game worthy of loving.
Since I was a kid, I remember kicking a soccer ball, and I know I’m not alone. You speak with a person from any country (minus the US…) and they’ll likely tell you that their fondest memories (and most tragic) have included a round ball intended to be kicked. I remember my first meaningful goal (maybe it’s cause there weren’t many…). Sliding into the keeper in the Kansas Governor’s Cup to secure my team victory in extra time. I remember playing pickup soccer with my friends during the summer. The goals were the short distance between our tennis shoes laid down on the pitch, but we didn’t care about those goals, the real goal was the 3 feet between our defenders boots. Because what’s better than nutmegging a friend? I was never quite as good as my teammate, Ben, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I remember my first celebration as I shushed the crowd (the other teams parents…). I remember the games in the blistering heat and the games in the pouring rain. I remember going to an empty field blaring “Lose Yourself” by Eminem on repeat and juggling until the sweat fell into my eyes and blinded me. Then doing it again. I remember hanging back after practice and hitting balls with my friends over an imaginary wall doing my best Ronaldo impression. I know I’m not alone. You ask a Costa Rican of their fondest memories and they’ll surely recite vivid tails of nutmegs and goals. Brazilians could speak for days about what the game has given them. The English may be disappointed by the recent form of their squad in the World Cup, but no one questions their love of the game.
The game has given me some of my fondest memories but also helped me forge friendships that I would have never had. I remember last summer in Kenya, I rode a tuk-tuk to the nearest pitch and laced up my boots. Before I knew it, I was juggling with two teenagers who had walked to the field after school. We didn’t know anything about each other but after an hour I had made two friends thanks to the game I love. In Chile, although my Spanish was broken at best, I made countless friends thanks to a concrete court with two goals and a round ball. In Ecuador, my friends and I challenged the crew to a match of beach soccer, and became closer with them than we could have ever been after any conversation. The game of football has no language, and it’s helped me make more friends than any language could.
The game has taught be invaluable lessons of hard work. It’s taught that if you want something in life, you’ve got to go and get it. You’ve got to go to the pitch and juggle until the lights shut off and run until your lung collapses. Now, I’m not saying that I’ve put in that work, but I have friends who have and the game has taught me that if there is ever anything in life you want, you’ve got to work for it. Yet, the game has showed me the other side of the coin too. Sometimes in life you will work as hard as you physically can and your dreams will be thwarted by some factor that’s out of your control. You may spend every moment of your free time with soccer ball and improving your fitness, but your coach may not see your potential… You may have spent every day of the offseason improving your left foot and your vision, willed your team to the championship game, but then then your opponent dives in the box, tricks the referee and you lose the match. Soccer has taught me the brutal truth that life is not fair. There are winners and loser and the most deserving team doesn’t always win, sometimes you will lose in a penalty shootout, that’s just the way life is.
Call it soccer. Call it football. I love this game. It has showed me how life works and taught me lessons of hard work. It has been the main character of my fondest memories and has been the cause of many of my most devastating heartbreaks. Yes, I love this game. Yet, what this game gives me more than anything is a sense of hope. Football is the world’s game. You don’t need a to be a member of a fancy country club, or even a hoop like in basketball, all you need is a ball ( a goal is just an added luxury). Anyone can play it, and everyone has a chance to be great. Sure, the richest will have the advantage of the best boots, pitches, and coaches, but to be the best you still must put in the work with a round ball. Everyone has a chance. Carlos Tevez grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires and earned his crooked teeth in a street fight. Through hard work and passion he was able to play for Boca Jrs. and eventually in the Premiere League. Robinho was born on the slum streets of São Vicente but his hard work got him noticed by legend Pele and a spot on Brazilian powerhouse Santos. Sure, for every Tevez or Robinho, there’s the story of the rich kid who had every resource possible to make him a soccer star, and soccer is not alone in it’s ability to inspire hope. Yet, this game is unique in the sense that it affects more people than any other sport. How does this apply to me? How does this give me any hope? Admittedly, I grew up in a comfortable house in the suburbs of Kansas. Yet, the game of soccer and World Cup in particular gives me hope that, sometimes, just sometimes even the most unlikely dreams can be realized through the synergy of passion and hard work.
So yes, I love soccer. I love it for the countless memories its given me. I love it for the friendships its helped me develop. I love it for the lessons its taught me about hard work, success and failure. And I love it for the unparalleled sense of hope it’s given me that no dream is too big.
Hopefully, now you understand why I love this game.