I jumped on the band wagon in 1994. I was 16-years-old when the United States hosted the World Cup I became a fan of the Beautiful Game. Over the course of a couple glorious weeks I fell in love with the United States Men’s National Team.
A few friends and I spent those days switching between playing two-on-two games in the front yard and watching the wonderfully denim Team USA play the world’s game.I soared when they succeeded and crashed when they fell short. The USMNT had me hooked.
When Atlanta hosted the Olympics in 1996 I had the joy of attending the two semi-final matches. I watched in fearful wonder as Nigerian fans drummed and danced perilously close to the railing of the upper deck and then became an honorary Argentine when I placed myself right in the center of their supporter’s section. I chanted broken Spanish and at one point was given a drum to beat out rhythms while Argentina won, 2-0. An Argentina flag hung even on my bedroom wall for a long time after that experience. The Nigerians and Argentinians helped me get it. I was eighteen then and I would literally live another lifetime before seeing a second real soccer game in person.
The ’94 World Cup made me believe in the USA and the ’96 Olympics made me believe in the wonder of the game, but in the coming years I would begin to see the immense relational component of the game.
Soccer is the most community driven sport on the globe. College football has a very strong sense of ‘We’ but it’s a pebble at the foot of Mt. Rushmore when compared to the “We” experienced with the USMNT.
I thought ‘We’ was about six in 1998 when I had VHS tapes smuggled into a camp so a group of us could watch the games we had to miss during the day.
‘We’ was still about six people when we had 5:00 AM watch parties during the 2002 run to the quarterfinals featuring the second Dos a Cero over Mexico.
2010 gave me my first taste of the enormity of what ‘We’ really was. I committed to work at a football camp the day of the Algeria game so I nervously spent my day like the guy in that Hyundai commercial only to find myself in a room full of a couple hundred football players losing their minds when Landon Donovan scored his miracle goal.
But for this run ‘We’ became all the more special because this time ‘We’ included my sons and we cheered like my friends and I did back in ’94. My sons and I learned the chants of the American Outlaws and ‘We’ grew larger and more fun. I bought tickets for the USA game in Jacksonville so eighteen years after my first game I was set to watch again, but this time it was the USA and this time I was with two of my sons. There would be no admiration for another country and their passion for soccer. This was USA all the way. This was ‘We!’ When Jozy Altidore scored the game’s first goal I had my camera rolling and captured a fun moment ‘We’ shared.
What started as a cute, almost mascot-like, game in ’94 has grown into an absolute monster in these twenty years. The game grew up as I’ve grown up and now my kids are growing up chanting “I Believe that We Will Win.”
As I admired Kasey Keller, my sons will remember Tim Howard. The Alexi Lalas I knew as a carrot topped, grunge rocking, center back, they will remember as the clean-cut studio host who didn’t believe quite as much as they did. These guys weren’t placed on the planet to lead my sons, that’s my job. But like the Grand Canyon or a mountain view these names and faces provide a backdrop for a few memories we shared together.
This World Cup gave me the chance to share this game with my boys. We even bought a USA soccer ball and it hit me that the game of catch fathers and sons shared decades ago my boys experienced as kicking the ball around with their dad. We shared a 2014 version of that Field of Dreams moment.
While watching the games and being part of ‘We’ is a blast, try to take it a step further. Go grab a ball and kick it around with your kids. Get a few families together and have a match in a park. Use the excitement of this run from our team as a way to build more bridges with your kids. If you do that, if lots of us do that, then regardless of who leaves Brazil with the World Cup… I Believe That We Will Win.