Soccer: The World’s Language

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(image: theshinguardian.com)

Please welcome new contributing writer and Chicago Fire fanatic Blaize Diaz as he reflects upon a pickup game in Mexico and how the beautiful game might help us Americans unite with our brethren from other nations.

Right now, I feel like a little kid waiting for Christmas. The eager anticipation of what’s coming in a little over a month (Chicago Fire’s first match of the MLS season) is like knowing what present you are going to get, but not yet being able to open it. So to help calm myself down a bit in the meantime, I’ll offer some thoughts on soccer in America and how it might connect us with the rest of the world.

As is well-known, Soccer is not treated with nearly the same amount of respect in the U.S. as it is in the rest of the world. Most Americans spend their T.V. time watching (among other things) baseball, football, The Simpsons, and American Idol. And while the rest of the world unites around their passion for soccer, they scoff at most Americans’ disdain for and ignorance of the beautiful game.

Yes, I acknowledge that soccer’s popularity in the U.S. is on the rise. I also know that attendance at professional soccer games has increased steadily over the past few years in our country. However, we are, unfortunately, still a ways off from soccer being considered among the elite team sports in America. That said, I proudly admit that I’m a Chicago Bulls, Cubs, and Blackhawks fan too. And increasingly, there are many others like me too.

But, if we Americans want to make friends with the rest of the world and gain its respect, we must begin to learn about the beautiful game and appreciate the fact that soccer truly is a universal language. Allow me to use the following story as an example of how soccer acts as a unifier, a way to bridge the “respect” gap.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a park in one if the poorest areas of Monterrey, Mexico. When I arrived late in the afternoon, I encountered a dirt and gravel pitch surrounded by makeshift houses built out of broken wooden pallets and scrap pieces of sheet metal. There were not many people around and it seemed as if folks were afraid to come out and enjoy one of the “nicer” aspects of their surroundings.

I was with a few other people, and we began to kick a soccer ball around. Not long after we started playing, a couple of kids who were about 10 years old came over and asked if they could join us. Although  I spoke very little Spanish, I told them they were more than welcome to play. A few minutes later, one of the kids went running off and came back with four other kids, and they joined our game too. Little did I know this was the beginning of what became the biggest pick-up game I had ever been a part of, and probably ever will!

As the afternoon turned to evening, more and more people showed up. It was as if they appeared out of thin air. By the time the game ended, people of all ages had either participated or watched from the sidelines. Conservatively, I estimate at least 100-150 people joined our impromptu kick around that day. Our team ended up losing by a score of 11-1, but nobody seemed to care. Both sides simply had fun playing the game.

Afterward (with the help of a translator from our group), a couple of locals told me they thought Americans were “ignorant and unappreciative” of the beautiful game. Being a young man, their perceptions really opened my eyes. For the first time, it really hit me that many, many people in other countries share negative feelings about Americans’ relationship with soccer. However, as luck had it, and despite our poor on-field performance, these folks from Monterrey told me they could see our group had the right attitude toward the game. They respected us.

That conversation in the park in Monterrey stuck with me. I think about it often. And I’m acutely aware of how we Americans can begin to change the negative feelings many around the world have about us through our relationship with soccer.

We need to respect the game and learn it; not simply its rules, but its deep history and diverse styles. We Americans must exhibit and share our knowledge of other soccer cultures. We must take the high road and show other soccer nations due respect and empathy. Only then will we truly unite with the rest of the world through its most beloved sport, well-versed in the language of the beautiful game.

Follow contributing writer Blaize Diaz @blaizeingspeed

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