I had my first exposure to the Women’s Professional Soccer League last night. WPS started just this year and if I know anything at all about women’s soccer it’s because my friend Jacqueline has done a good job in her teaching. I am pre-disposed to like the sport. I love soccer. I love watching it. It’s the only sport I’ve ever actively followed. I can’t play to save my life. But randomly kicking a ball around or taking shots on goal – that’s always a good time. And I could watch soccer games all day if I had to.
I don’t know when it started. It may have even begun as an attempt to bond with my dad. And it’s worked for the most part. My dad and I have some of our most animated and engaged conversations over a cup of coffee and the soccer standings on Sunday mornings. I sometimes joke that it’s the only time we don’t argue. Except for those times we disagree. Like when I insist on my undying affection for certain teams.
If my love of soccer began as a father-daughter bonding exercise it persisted because it has a left a huge mark. Maybe it’s the heritage. I was brought up in a pretty traditional Italian American family. It’s what we do. I remember the 1986 World Cup final held in Mexico. There was some party at my house … maybe my brother’s high school graduation party. But the part that sticks in my mind was the little green black and white tv was carried outside plugged into the outlet outside so all the men could watch the game. I don’t remember much else (I was only 9 at the time) but I remember that TV being carried out there. If my memory isn’t messing with me, it was carried to a location underneath the gooseberry tree. Would this have happened for a baseball game? No. Football? Hell no. (We’ll ignore the fact that the Superbowl is in the winter..)
Another memory involves my parents and I being at a family picnic at High Meadows. They rent out the camp to family and corporate gatherings. I can’t remember if this was a family gathering or a corporate one. I do remember lots of family being there (which really means nothing since most of my extended family works/worked at Wiremold.) It was 1994. The World Cup was held in the United States and the final was between Italy and Brazil. Someone arranged a television to be set up in the pavilion and a group of us gathered to watch the match. It was a nail biter. It came down to penalty kicks and Italy ultimately lost. It was awful. And in that moment I became a die hard non-Brazil fan. I decided that I could never ever support Brazil and would never be a fan of their soccer team. Bebeto and Romario were not names I cared to discuss. I remember sitting there in my bathing suit, face paint from earlier in the day screaming at the television when Roberto Baggio and his golden foot missed that last penalty kick. To make matters worse we shared that viewing experience with a large group of Brazilians. It was awful. And solidified my undying love for the sport. There was a bond that day that just made it one of the more memorable experiences in my life. I was only 16, but I remember that day clearly.
And the list continues. The sport has been such a part of my life for so long I can’t imagine not being a soccer fan.
There are a lot of other reasons for this girl to be a soccer fan. The game is exciting. Yes, a 0-0 match can be one of the most thrilling things to watch. The fans are fantastic. There are a drums. And, well the athletes are extremely fit. And by fit, I mean ocassionally super hot.
I purposely did not post shirtless pictures. Because well, that’s not the point. But the hotness coupled with the fitness makes it all highly entertaining for me. Especially when you throw in the hope that they’ll exchange shirts at the end of a match.
Add in the fun had in watching a game in a group environment. This could be a bar. Or at a camp pavilion. Or in someone’s backyard. Or at the actual match. There’s something about soccer fans that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. It’s fun. The atmosphere is what makes it worthwhile. Even the obnoxious fans are fun. I remember watching Portugal v. England in the 2006 World Cup in a local Irish Pub. I was one of the few rooting for Portugal and I was asked to go sit in the corner with the “other” Portugal fan. Rude? No. Hilarious? Hell yes.
But the fans and the environment bring me to why I started writing this post. Last night at the Breakers v. Sol match in the WPS, the environment was just what I love. Even at a women’s soccer game, there were drummers, fans in face paint, flags, and awesome yelling. There was a huge contingent of Brazilian soccer fans rooting for Marta. As one of the young fans next to me proclaimed to her brother “Marta is like probably the greatest soccer player, like, ever.” And I loved watching the young fans. I don’t know if my young sports career would have been different with more visible women female athletes, but seeing these little girls so excited to see their heroes play was worth the price of admission. The 90+ minutes of great soccer was just an added bonus. And it was great soccer. I might even say it was better than any MLS match I’d been to. Is that a knock on MLS? No. I think it’s just that the closest MLS team for me is the New England Revolution. And they play in Foxboro. And it’s just too big to feel the sort of community I felt last night. The vastness of Gillette Stadium makes it hard to really become part of the experience.
I hope this league sticks around. For the great image these women provide for little girls. For the great community professional soccer teams can provide. And selfishly, because the Boston Breakers are a much more accessible soccer team for me to go see. I wouldn’t be opposed to making a trip there more often. For $15, why not? Plus they have sangria.