Argentina was my team during the final game of the 2014 World Cup, and I'm still trying to get over the disappointment. Every newspaper photo I see of Lionel Messi hanging his head like a scolded puppy wrings sorrow from my heart.
I didn't begin the World Cup as an Argentina fan. In fact, the country wasn't anywhere on my radar, and I'd never heard of Messi. But the teams with which my allegiances lie were both eliminated—Italy first, the United States second—and I found myself looking for a new team to support. It was a necessary step in remaining interested in the global sporting event.
The ability to adopt another country's team and cheer for it as though it were our own is a uniquely American quality, or so I learned while listening to the endlessly entertaining radio sportscast Men in Blazers. The hosts chalk it up to the fact that many Americans have "hyphenated identities" and are used to indentifying with more than one side.
Good Americans root for the underdog, and I became a Tica for Costa Rica. But as the teams continued to be whittled down, Argentina began working its way into my heart, till one night I found myself watching YouTube videos of Messi scoring goals and outmaneuvering flocks of defenders. My heart soared; I had found a hero. I felt sure he couldn't be beaten, and I scoffed at the scores of sports announcers who almost unanimously predicted Messi's defeat.
These are dark days. It's not only Argentina's defeat, topping off a month of watching my lineup of favorite teams bite the dust, but also having to wake up each day and step into a world without futbol. Whatever is a girl to do when facing soccer withdrawal?
Then, to my rescue, came the ever-perceptive Men in Blazers. Americans, they said, need to keep this soccer momentum going all the way into the 2018 World Cup in Russia. We need to immerse ourselves in Major League Soccer—available here with Real Salt Lake games, featuring U.S. National Team midfielder Kyle Beckerman.
The other thing said on the podcast that really stuck with me was that in order to climb out of this funk and stay devoted to "the beautiful game," we need to get out there and play soccer. Remember when you were 10 and played casual soccer at recess, or on that co-ed soccer team? Whether you scored goals or hung back wondering where you should be on that enormous field, wasn't it fun just being there, outside on the green grass, feeling your shoes dig into the turf as you put on a burst of speed? Wasn't it satisfying leaning into that kick, feeling the torque of your body, the contact with that firm, round ball?
A love of soccer isn't complete without placing your own two feet on the pitch. Find a pickup game, or form your own with friends, co-workers and random acquaintances; a game is likely to attract players, especially if you list it on Facebook or Meetup.com. Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have numerous parks with free, no-reservation soccer and multipurpose fields (peruse the list of parks at SLCGov.com/CityParks).
The adult pickup soccer group I found meets three days a week, just around the corner from my house. The last time we played, I was still sure that Argentina would win. Now I look forward to returning to the field to work out my feelings from the loss—and to score a goal for Messi.