It happened. A nightmare. We all saw it coming, or we should have. The United States senior men’s national team will miss out on its first World Cup since 1986. It is a blow to American soccer, but I am still thankful.
American soccer is more than the USMNT.
It is more than the United States Soccer Federation, thankfully.
American soccer is a community unlike any other you will find in this country and it has given me more than I have ever given it.
Like many Americans, I started to fall in love with soccer during the World Cup.
My very first experience with enjoying the sport of soccer came during the World Cup when the US stank up Veltins-Arena against the Czech Republic, fought valiantly against the eventual champion Azzurri and went down in flames against their burgeoning nemesis, Ghana. That’s how my soccer fandom started.
I graduated from high school in Arkansas that summer and the attitude towards sports there destroyed my enthusiasm for baseball and basketball. I had a hole in my sports-loving heart. My grandmother was in the hospital throughout the World Cup. I watched games in the waiting room, I watched games in her hospital room, and I watched games at her house.
I distinctly remember the 2-2 draw between England and Sweden. I sat there and watched a whole match, maybe for the very first time, save for a few trips to the vending machine and the restroom. I missed all four goals. How was that even possible? Same could be said for Tuesday night, but for some reason that experience ingrained in me the perpetual tense nature of the sport. The game can change at any moment, and it often does.
My grandmother died several months later, but she was able to watch me grow up and graduate, for which I am also very thankful. In what was an extremely surreal day, her funeral was held on the same day as Darren McFadden and the Arkansas Razorbacks announced their presence with authority in a dominating road win against the No. 2-ranked Auburn Tigers. I showed up late to the church because I wanted to watch as much of it as I could. Everybody knew it, and, because this is the South, everybody pretty much accepted it. As you can tell, all of my favorite sports teams have turned on me.
But in soccer, I was hooked. I immediately became a “fan” of Major League Soccer. I had no local team in Arkansas – FC Dallas has still never made any overtures into a state that’s mere hours away – so, I became a fan of the league and the institution of American soccer as a whole.
The next logical step? Joining BigSoccer, of course.
I spent 3+ years on there ranking sports leagues, finding illegal streams for Yanks Abroad, and, yes, pontificating about when the USMNT would win its first World Cup. A lot of crazy folks use(d) those message boards, but I’m thankful for its role in establishing my own personal soccer community. I’d go months at a time without talking to anyone in person about soccer.
I met @ChelseaMatt33, who may be about as well traveled as any US fan you could find. I connected and conversed with @scavendish, @AdamTheRed, @roehlteacher, and so many more. I directly insulted @LeanderAlphabet and he rightfully punked me out for the chump I was.
I devoured highlight videos of Zidane and Ronaldinho and Ronaldo and other superstars after the World Cup. It became a fun activity of my own to make videos of American soccer highlights. A few of them were featured on popular sites, like @SoccerByIves. If I wasn’t talking about soccer on BS, I was talking about it on Mr. Ives’ site.
I graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2010 and lived on the fate of the USMNT in South Africa, for the second summer in a row. I got out of school, made a few more videos, and spent the next six months unemployed.
Then, @shinguardian took a flyer on an unexperienced writer fresh out of college.
My very first live soccer journalism experience was a playoff match at FC Dallas against Real Salt Lake. And @thesoccerdon showed up. It was such an enriching opportunity. I contributed to TSG for several years. It gave this young dude chances to directly interact with and interview guys like Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Dema Kovalenko, a young Dax McCarty, an even younger Brek Shea, Arturo Alvarez, Steven Lenhart, Andy Iro, Sam Cronin and Kenny Cooper. I still can’t thank Matt enough for the chances he gave me.
I was able to work alongside @GrantWahl a month after hearing him speak at an event in Little Rock in 2011. Ives was there too, and I met a young writer on the rise in @FrancoPanizo. I met the dreamy @kylemartino and the always underappreciated J.P. Dellacamera. I can’t tell you how cool it was to meet the OG MLS fan himself, @mathaim, and have him treat me with such respect.
I emailed several journalists a year earlier about whether I should go to graduate school for journalism. I will always appreciate the responses I received from Matt, Ives, and @SoccerInsider. But I’m forever grateful for the extensive insight @JeffreyCarlisle gave me into the life of a soccer journalist.
As awesome as it was to cover Sporting Kansas City’s US Open Cup triumph in 2012, the highlight of my soccer journalism came a year later when I ran with the big dogs at the 2013 MLS All-Star game, also in KC. All of the stars were there, on and off the field.
I will never forget @BrianStraus searching me out and asking me questions about my background and experience. It was such a cool gesture from a journalist I respected so much, and still do.
That’s American soccer to me. It is not just the games on the field. It is so much more than that.
It is the camaraderie of @joepaul03, @JustinSaysThis, and @101singer. It is the insight and humor from @ThatDamnYank, @FriendlyFAUX, @MarielStoll, @MarkFishkin, @TheOffsideRules, @TheKaylaKnapp, @RyanRosenblatt and @ayyy_west. You follow these guys for so long and you get to watch all the cool stuff they do.
They are truly talented.
I include everyone’s Twitter tags because they, along with @nwblackmon and @YanksAreComing, became my American soccer community in 2009. I joined Twitter specifically to tell Charlie Davies I made a video he and a lot of other people watched about the draw against Costa Rica after he was injured in the car wreck.
That was a catalyzing moment in US Soccer and the failure on Tuesday will likely be another. Tuesday night sucked and Wednesday sucked, but I know that my personal soccer fandom is bigger than that. It is all of these great people who form the American soccer community around me.
And for that, I am extremely thankful.
Jay Bell is a journalist based in Arkansas and a longtime friend and contributor to TYAC. Follow him on Twitter @JBellEoL.