Soccer is the world’s most popular game. Everyone knows this. However, people don’t usually stop to consider why. This is a sport in which goals are rare, many games end in a tie, and whose international organization is as corrupt as they come. And yet, people the world over pack stadiums and bars, watch religiously on TV, buy jerseys, get into fights, create elaborate chants, and generally just act insane about the sport of soccer.
There are many reasons for this – its image as “the working man’s sport”, the accessibility of the game itself, etc. – but I want to talk about one in particular: That sound. You know the one. The sound that comes from a crowd just as the ball hits the back of the net. The sudden gasp, followed by the deafening roar that rises from the stands after a monumental goal. It causes your hair to stand on end and goosebumps to form on your skin. Here it is on the world’s biggest stage – the 2010 World Cup final.
If soccer is the most popular game, the World Cup is the most popular event – the Holy Grail of Sports. Naturally, this is when soccer pride is at its highest global visibility. Soccer fans have pride in their local club sides, but this is nothing compared to the fervor that arises over national teams. For the players, the highest honor is to play for your country. It doesn’t matter if you are Barcelona or Real Madrid, Manchester United or Chelsea, Portland Timbers or Seattle Sounders, when it comes to national team soccer, rivalries temporarily dissolve for the sake of the nation.
Of course soccer pride comes in different forms. Not every country celebrates the sport in the same way, and that is what makes it the universal game. However, it all comes back to that communal feeling you get watching it. This can come from the run of play, when passing and movement and spacing between players works so perfectly it’s as if they are of one mind. Like this goal from Premier League club Arsenal last year. Or this 2010 goal from Brazil.
These moments are unlike any in all of sport. They are the flawless, utopian representation of a team working together. That festive, communal experience also derives from the simple act of watching the game with fellow fans. As humans, we all crave that peaceful harmony and every four years, fans and players are treated to it. That’s why the World Cup is the perfect time to show your soccer pride, whether you follow the sport year-round or not. There are many national sides to support that have a good chance to win it all, maybe you like Brazil’s Joga Bonito or Spain’s tiki-taka style. However, don’t underestimate an underdog like the USA. People say that the sport won’t ever catch on in the United States like it has in the rest of the world. I’m not so sure. Let’s recall two instances.
First, the most famous goal in US Soccer history: Landon Donovan’s 2010 World Cup strike late in the Algeria match to push the USA into the knockout round. You may have seen this video of the entire country collectively freaking out at bars and watch parties. Listen for that trademark sound of communal joy as Donovan tucks the ball inside the left post.
Second, you may have heard manager Jürgen Klinsmann left Mr. Donovan off the 2014 World Cup squad. People were not pleased. In fact, there was downright indignation over the decision. Casual fans and diehards alike gathered to voice their displeasure. It’s unlikely anything has ever caused Americans to get this upset over soccer. This is a good sign. The nationwide euphoria and elation of the 2010 World Cup and the equally widespread outrage and disbelief over the recent Donovan Decision go hand-in-hand to show that the United States does indeed have soccer pride.
As we enter World Cup 2014 in Brazil, all of those feelings will come into play. The high drama will again create organic moments of slow buildup resulting in pure joy. Along the way, each nation will have the chance to show their soccer pride. Modern technology, such as Twitter and live streaming, has only enhanced the opportunity to get in on this feeling. It’s easier than ever to support your team and take part in this great sport. Over the next few weeks, you’re going to hear that sound. When you do, just appreciate the feeling of pride you get, reminding us that we are a part of something greater than ourselves.