Falling in Love with Soccer Only Took Me 20 Years
My love affair with soccer/football was anything but a straight line. I’ve had an interest in sports for as long as I can remember, but other than college softball, I’ve never been what I would call a "serious" fan of any of them. I spent a lot more time playing sports than watching them. Growing up we watched major sporting events - marquee boxing matches, the Final Four, Wimbledon, the World Series, the Super Bowl, winter and summer Olympics, and the men’s World Cup semi-finals and final. That began to change when I was 11.
The earliest memory I have of being a fan of soccer was the 1994 men’s World Cup. Maybe because it was in the U.S., maybe because I idolized my older brother who played on a travel team. Whatever the reason, it was a great year to take interest in the USMNT – they made a run to the round of 16 and ended up getting knocked out by Brazil. I don’t remember much of the matches, but almost 26 years later I remember the big names: Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola, and Tab Ramos.
The 1996 summer Olympics, the first time women’s soccer was included, further fueled my interest in the game because I finally had heroes I could relate to. Now Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain, Carla Overbeck, and Bri Scurry were my team.
The 1999 women’s World Cup. I was 16, and my team made it to the finals, on home soil. And in PKs Bri Scurry made that save, and then of course Brandi Chastain had her moment. I still remember how empowered watching her rip her jersey off in front of 90,000 people made me feel.
After ’99, I followed the USWNT and the USMNT sporadically. I remember being in Montreal on vacation in 2010 and stopping at a café to watch Landon Donovan score the only goal in our 2-1 loss to Ghana. I remember parts of the 2011 and 2015 World Cup. I went to a USWNT international friendly against Ireland in January of 2016.
And then there was 2019. Something about this team was different, and captured my attention in a way that had never happened before. I'm not exactly sure what that was. I do know that twelve of the 23 players were over 30, and being in my mid 30's I could see something of myself in them. I could relate to them. The '99ers were the women I aspired to be when I grew up. The '19ers were the women I cheered on as peers. Even though the path to the final was relatively easy for the U.S., I was on the edge of my seat for every match we played (except for Thailand, of course). I even watched all of the non-US games. After we won I was hooked. I needed more football, to watch, to learn about the teams and players. I discovered the NWSL. The first game I saw was on July 14, the 4-3 shootout between the Thorns and the Pride with the stoppage time goal by Tyler Lussi to claim the "W" for the Thorns. That was it: Portland had to be my team. I started reading every article I could find on women’s soccer, watching old matches, tuning in to the 2020 NWSL draft - and just like that, I’d fallen in love and would never look back.