I don't recall when I first started playing soccer. Maybe around 1970 or so. I know that was the first World Cup I knew of. As I was growing up, we kept hearing two things about soccer: that it would be the next big sport in America, and that Americans never would embrace soccer. We just kept playing, half-delighted we played such a "minor" sport, half-frustrated by the lack of recognition. Of course, we really weren't very good on any sort of global, or even regional scale. Our national team would lose badly to third-rate European teams and sometimes hang tough against Central American teams. When we qualified for the 1990 World Cup--the first time ever, with previous appearances based on invitation--it was like the miracle on grass.
Now here we are, just a generation later, and World Cup fever has struck America. People have the games on; the US-Portugal match was the most viewed ever in this nation. They are talking about the games, albeit with pretty limited understanding. But they are talking about them! They care! Sports websites have the cup as the lead story every day. Our team is very competitive in the Group of Death and should qualify for the next round. To someone with my historical perspective, it's quite remarkable and invigorating.
Of course, the fervor will recede after the cup. But it's grown since 2010, which was bigger than 2006, which...Soccer now is in the nation's consciousness. Do I expect it to reach the levels of Brazil or Spain or Germany. Probably not. But I never believed I would see what's happening now either. I think we safely can say we're witnessing a true cultural change.*
So what's the moral of the story? Many others share my soccer past, and many of us ended up coaching. We passed on our love of the sport to whomever we could. One player, one team at a time. With dedication, determination, and faith, true change can occur. In some ways it's frustratingly slow. But in others it's faster than imagined.**
*I also wonder if in this World Cup we are seeing another cultural change one tied to the era of globalization. While upsets often have occurred in the past, this time more of the minnows are doing quite well. The gap has closed as players have more exposure--whether actually playing experience or simple exposure--that has raised everyone's level. Now everyone can analyze and learn from the best.
**I'm seeing my dream come true when it comes to soocer. That gives me hope because of all the positive developments I'm seeing in education.