Every four years the world stops for one event. The world stops to marvel at 22 men chasing after a spherical ball using their feet, chest, heads, bellies and the hands of god, to propel the ball into a 24 x 8 feet goal. Blinded by this awe-inspiring spectacle, ESPN pundits suddenly attain the ability to extrapolate into the future and utter these simply ridiculous and absurdly unrealistic words, “Soccer is the next big sport in the United States!” I hate to be a pessimist in light of Tim Howard’s godly performance and the Yanks’ “successful” World Cup campaign, but soccer has a very long way to go.
Growing up in Cameroon, a country of around 23 million people in West Central Africa, football was the only sport I knew. In fact football was life and life was football. Before I ever kicked an actual football, I was already an expert. I had acquired ample skills with rocks, bottles, mangos, doll heads, socks, and whatever you can think of that was round. Controlling a football was more of a mere formality than a challenge. While playing football on the streets, I got pushed around by the big boys and came home hurt every day. At home, I worshipped Cameroonian football stars like Geremi Njitap and Samuel Eto’o and attempted to emulate their every move.
When I immigrated to the United States at the tender age of eight, I left football behind. In the land of opportunity, I was introduced to a new game called “soccer.” Soccer did not consist of challenging big boys on the streets or just kicking bottles. Soccer consisted of orange slices at half time and cheering moms. Soccer consisted of having fun and making sure little Jessica and Amy also got a chance to score. I was quite good at soccer, but soccer was nothing compared to football. As time passed, I slowly gravitated away from soccer to the sport where I could go outside and get my butt kicked by the big boys, the sport that I could play every day on the streets, the sport that was ubiquitous and entrenched in the culture: basketball. Instead of worshipping Geremi and Eto’o, I began to worship Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson. Instead of innovatively using every part of my body except my hands to control the ball, my hands became my most potent weapon. Football dwindled from an obsession to a nostalgic memory.
If I have learned one thing about Americans from spending half of my life in America, it is this: Americans are full of themselves. Americans will NOT obsess over anything that they are not the best at. I mean they call their baseball championship the “World Series” as if the Boston Red Sox have to beat the Tokyo Giants to be champions. They proclaim the NBA and Super Bowl winners world champions. Since when did the United States and Canada become the world? What’s next, MLS champions becoming world champions? If soccer wants to earn front page coverage on ESPN (the self-proclaimed WORLD wide leader in sports) and become a top tier sport in the United States, the solution is plain and simple. The United States needs to become “world champions.” The United States needs to win the World Cup. As much as I salivate about Deandre Yedlin becoming the next Dani Alves, Julian Green turning into a right-footed Messi, Michael Bradley gaining the vision of Italian Jesus, Andrea Pirlo and Jozy Altidore turning into some sort of super striker mixture with the brute physicality of Didier Drogba, and the exquisite touch of Luis Suarez, in reality, the United States is ways away from being a true factor in world soccer.
While left hopeless and frustrated by this notion, I walk to the park just to find plenty of kids on the basketball court. I turn around to the newly constructed soccer pitch and it is as empty as Arsenal’s recent trophy cases. I turn back around to the basketball court and yell “I got next,” wishing my words flew in the other direction, towards the green grass and white posts, towards what I used to know as a football field.