Unbeknownst to me at the time, the summer of 1994 was a crossroads of sorts in my life. The United Sates hosting World Cup 94 was my first formal introduction to the sport of soccer. A mere month after the World Cup Final I found myself playing on my first organized team. From that day forward soccer has been a pillar in my life.
Whether as a player, coach, scout, writer or as a rabid hooligan, the sport has been my go-to for nearly a quarter century. I have even been blessed enough to make a living through soccer. First as a member of the sales staff for multiple Major League Soccer teams, to coaching at a variety of levels, and also through scouting. Furthermore, my closest friends in life have all been due to bonding through soccer.
Given the positive impact soccer has been for me, it was concerning when I hit a point of contention in 2017 as I began to loathe the beautiful game. I bring this up not to sound melancholy or whiny, but because this was a massive paradigm shift in my life. I have always been known by friends, family, and acquaintances as the “soccer guy” so to completely swing the other way and have zero interest in soccer was perplexing.
What caused such a swing in feelings? Well, it was the proverbial “three strikes and you’re out” cliché…
Strike 1: The USMNT not qualifying for the World Cup
Obviously, this was a calamity for all of us! No doubt about it. The fallout and irrational response by many fans afterwards also added to my despondence. The Bruce Arena hatred, the MLS abuse, etc. As if losing out on playing in the World Cup wasn’t bad enough, the aftermath within the U.S. Soccer community was nauseating.
Strike 2: Major League Soccer and Anthony Precourt hijacking the Crew from Columbus
With little to no discernible warning the Columbus Crew were said to be all but packed up and set to relocate to Austin, Texas. The shock and dismay I felt when reading that headline for the first time was a surreal moment for me. While World Cup 94 was the spark of my love affair for soccer, the Columbus Crew were the gas that set things ablaze.
Born and raised in Columbus, the Crew were a massive part of my adolescence. Counting through my ticket stubs, I have attended upwards of 100 home Crew games from 1998 to 2011 (I moved out of Ohio in 2011). Yes, over the years I began following other teams more closely, but the Crew still held a special place in my heart. To witness MLS and a slime ball new owner band together to pry the inaugural MLS franchise from Central Ohio was deceitful and stomach churning.
Maybe it was my own fault for being so naive to think that “my league” wouldn’t architect such a move. The league that I supported, worked for and loved for two decades was stabbing me and all of Central Ohio in the back. The new shiny toy of Austin was all the rage, while the pillar of U.S. soccer that is Columbus was being left in the rear view mirror. Many might say “such is life” to such action, but a nostalgic like myself doesn’t condone that type of conduct.
Strike 3: Corruption running rampant in soccer
FIFA being FIFA… Again, more naivety from me, but after such a public shit storm with the bribery scandals and with the appointment of a new FIFA president, I had hoped Qatar would be stripped of their World Cup hosting duties in 2022. Why reward a country with the honor of hosting the biggest sporting event in the world after such reprehensible and audacious actions? And don’t get me started on the slave labor they are invoking to build the entire infrastructure necessary to host the global phenomena. It is absurd this sham is still moving forward.
Then when all the rumors were circulating that North America may not be awarded the 2026 World Cup due to President Trumps “Muslim ban” irked me. Would FIFA actually take the risk of hosting the event in Morocco over North America due to political skirmishes? Unbelievable and unacceptable!
My reluctant return
My return to following the game again after a seven month layoff is still relatively new and conceivably I have plenty of catching up to do. I have become aware that MLS expansion is trudging on with Nashville and Cincinnati, the Timbers are on fire, Alan Gordon is doing Alan Gordon type things, the USMNT is young and spry, and the World Cup is in play, all of which are positive aspects to focus on.
The onus is on me to ignore the political games within the sport and instead focus on the features I love about MLS and U.S. Soccer. What are some of those features, you ask? Here goes… First Kick, Mike Petke, Bruce Arena, Caleb Porter, Sigi Schmid, Bob Bradley. Crew Stadium, Red Bull Arena, Alan Gordon, Diego Valeri, Providence Park, MLS parity, Alan Kelly, the ginger ninja Dax McCarty, Geoff Cameron, Kyle Martino, Eric Wynalda, Brian Dunseth, Dwight Burgess, John Strong, MLS expansion, the goals, the saves, community comradery, Tim Howard, Zlatan, Dempsey face, the list could go on and on.
I’ll let the business and politics be handled by the suits in New York. Isn’t that why we love competition and sport? Because it provides a reprieve from the business shenanigans that we all loathe? I missed the sport. Despite all of the hullabaloo it’s good to be back!