My Love Affair with Soccer: Getting Hit by Lightning Thrice
Soccer people are their own unique type of creature. I never really considered myself to be one of those soccer people. As far as I could remember growing up in a Mexican household in El Paso, Texas, there was soccer on the television.
My dad wasn’t a huge sports fan, other than rooting for the Dodgers back when Fernando Valenzuela was on the mound. Even so, the Primera División de México (as Liga MX was known back then - yeah, I’m really dating myself, but I just mentioned Fernando Valenzuela, so you should have expected that) was on our little TV on the weekends, more as background noise than anything else. Dad didn’t raise me to support any team and I was still a bit too young to understand sports. I would follow my older brother and mimic his likes, being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and cheering on the aforementioned Dodgers.
All that changed the summer of 1986 when Mexico hosted the men’s World Cup. The first time I fell in love with soccer was my first real soccer memory: the quarterfinals match between Argentina and England. Sorry to my English friends, but the performance of one Diego Maradona on that June day at the Estadio Azteca lured me in with his “Hand of God" goal. Soccer’s fishhooks sunk deeply into my heart shortly thereafter with what is now known as the “Goal of the Century” as Maradona slashed the English defense, cutting through and completing his brace for the match. England would score later on, but couldn’t find an equalizer. As a neutral spectator, international soccer was it for me. The appeal was like nothing any club team was able to offer. Not having much exposure to club soccer, the love of soccer fell dormant, but the seed was sown in my heart.
Fast-forward to my high school junior year. There were two ways to join the soccer team in high school: sign up to the soccer-specific class or make the team from the open tryout held after school. I wasn’t what you’d call an “athlete” back then; I would find myself kicking the ball around every so often, but mostly I was rolling dice playing Dungeons and Dragons or something like that. Yet there I was, one random afternoon after school, trying out for the soccer team. After the tryout, the coach said to me words that would forever change my life. “I like your heart. The girls' team needs a manager.” Some would take that as an insult, but to me it just opened my eyes to the world of women’s soccer in 1990. I basically did as much as I could for our team. I helped the coach during practice, filled in when we needed a goalkeeper, or carried all the equipment before and after practices and games. The second time I fell in love with soccer was in those two years as a junior and senior, being a student manager for my high school women’s soccer team.
That experience also opened my eyes to the level of unequal investment into the women’s program versus the men’s. For the women’s side, the only staff was the coach and myself. The men’s side had the coach with a couple of assistants as well as two student managers. A memory that stands out even to this day is having to be a linesman (dating myself again, they would be called assistant referees starting in 1996) during a district match, because the only match official was the referee. I thought, This would never happen to the men’s team. And I picked up the women’s soccer drum that I’ve been pounding to this day. After graduating high school, my exposure to soccer disappeared once again and the love of the game hibernated in my heart.
Rush ahead to the third and final time I fell in love with soccer - and this time my love would not fade. Over the years, I had attempted to keep soccer in my life. I used to officiate youth soccer in California for the American Youth Soccer Organization while I was in tech school in the Air Force in ‘96. I would also ref for intramural soccer in North Dakota and Florida when I was stationed there. But it wasn’t until a fateful day in July 2013 that a friend of mine invited me to a soccer game in Orlando to watch the USL Pro side, Orlando City, for a home match at what was then known as the Citrus Bowl. Finding Orlando City and drinking the purple Kool-Aid was the spark my soccer-loving passion powder keg needed to explode. Thanks to Dom Dwyer the club would win the championship that season. I realized being near Orlando was a pretty great thing for soccer. Later that year I was able to attend a U.S. women’s national team match as they took on Brazil. That U.S. side featured future Orlando Pride players Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux, the star of the match who would net a brace that day. This time I would never lose the love of soccer. I found the club I will support for the rest of days that was missing from my youth, bleed purple, and of course cheer for Dom and Syd on the pitch to this day.