First Person: Soccer? Never Heard of It!

A faithful American fan of other sports finally decided to give soccer a chance.
Soccer?  Please.  No thanks, I'd just stick with football, as in the NFL. 

Baseball and basketball were also better, more interesting sports.  Heck, throw in ice hockey, golf and tennis.  I live in America, where soccer is an afterthought and I, like most of the citizens of the United States, felt the same way about soccer. 

It was way too boring and low scoring.  Who wants to see 11 guys move a ball around with their feet and occasionally their heads?  Besides, it's an European game, not your traditional American sport. 

I would rather see guys with helmets laying bone-crunching hits, athletes throwing down thunderous slam dunks and pitchers throwing 100-mile-an-hour fastballs. 

These are what Americans look for in their sports, not some guy in high socks going down a "pitch" and kicking a ball into a goal maybe once or twice a game, if, at all.  Yes, these are the biases that I, like many in this country, had about soccer and I never thought I would see the day where soccer would become one of my favorite sports.
Then came the World Cup, in 1998.  I started to come around a little by this point.  In 1994, I was perhaps too young to know what was going on; all I knew was that the World Cup (supposedly a big event) took place in the United States.  At that time, I was too busy following the New York Knicks. 

In 1998, I remember my father eagerly anticipating the start of the World Cup and since we only had one television, I was forced to watch this so-called game of soccer.  I remember him watching the opening Korea Republic vs. Mexico game with great interest, but being what I guess is realistic, as he kept saying Korea had no chance.  He was right, as Korea wound up losing 3-1 and did not have such a great showing in France. 

I am cut from a different cloth, however, as I root blindly and loyally for the United States in any international competition.  I may have Korean parents, but being born and raised in the United States gives me a certain sense of pride that not many Koreans understand. 

If I was going to be forced to watch soccer, I might as well watch my country and give them my support. 
First match, against Germany, the Americans lost 2 - 0.  My father kept trying to tell me that the U.S. players were no good at soccer, but that was something I wanted to figure out for myself.  Second match, against Iran, I heard all the analysts say that the Americans should be able to win and I thought the same, thinking to myself that there is no way we could lose to Iran in any athletic endeavor.  Well, the Americans lost 2 - 1 and then they capped off their '98 World Cup by losing to Yugoslavia 1 - 0. 
Something weird happened along the way though; I slowly started becoming interested in soccer.  I saw the brilliance of players like Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, and what the game meant to those countries' fans.  It's not like I immediately became hooked, but rather, I developed a tolerance towards soccer.
It all culminated in 2002.  After my sophomore year of college, I went to Korea for summer vacation and it was just a coincidence that the World Cup was taking place in Korea and Japan.  I bought a ticket for the U.S. vs. Portugal match and the rest is, as they say, history.  I remember having to sprint to the game just to make the start and I remember being the only Korean chanting "USA! USA!", while surrounded by other Koreans.  They all looked at me as if I was from another planet.
I had read about our young squad and how we had some potential with the likes of Landon Donovan, Demarcus Beasley and Clint Mathis, mixed in with veterans Claudio Reyna and Brian McBride.  I remember the Americans jumping out in front with the 3-0 lead, then holding on for dear life as the U.S. won 3 - 2 in what was probably one of the bigger upsets of that Cup. 
However, being in Korea, the big story was the Korean side as they had never won a World Cup game.  Well, they ended up making it to the semi-finals and the capitol city of Seoul was in pandemonium after each win. 

There were literally thousands of people on the streets chanting and singing, people standing on buses and cars, stuff I had never seen in America.  It was definitely an experience worth cherishing, being part of all that joyous celebration, but I still had America at heart. 

My defining moment came during the last round of games in the group stages, when the U.S. played Poland and Korea were pitted against Portugal.  If the Portuguese won and the Americans lost, Korea and Portugal would advance to the knockout round. 

Well, some of my friends from America and I were watching the games in a crowded food court and we actually heard people say that they wish Korea would lose on purpose, just so the Americans would not advance.  Poland beat the U.S. 3-1 that night and with each Poland goal, cheers went up as if Korea had scored. 

I was outraged.  These people were after all, drinking American beer.  Against better judgement, I started a "USA! USA!" chant with my friends and needless to say, we were not making friends with anybody anytime soon.  I learned that everyone wants to topple America in any kind of competition and it just gave me a certain sense of satisfaction that this particular U.S. team was not going to go down without a fight.
That World Cup ended with a numbing loss to the Germans (I guess it came full circle from 1998) in the round of eight.  However, as disappointing as the loss was, soccer had a new fan. 

I came back to America and followed the players that I had seen perform on the international stage.  I started watching Fox Soccer Channel and I'm not going to lie, playing FIFA video games kept my interest and knowledge somewhat up to date. 

I'm not going to say that I am the most passionate or knowledgeable fan, but I root hard for my team and my country.  I am loyal to my players and don't act like I know it all.  I appreciate how hard the players play and the passion the fans have for their teams.  I have a newfound respect for soccer.
A lot of Koreans asked me, how can you root for America when you are obviously Korean?  I don't think they understand.  I am an American citizen.  If I played soccer or any Olympic sport, I would be representing America, not Korea.  I learned firsthand how hard it must be for the men's national team to play on foreign soil and what joy opposing fans get when America loses.  When we win, it makes it that much sweeter to rob them off that.

Joon Lee is a new contributor to

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