It’s the most wonderful time of the year—well, it’s the most wonderful time of every four years. It’s the World Cup! And American’s lack of qualifying team doesn’t make me any less excited than I normally am. Over the past decade, I’ve turned into one of those soccer fans who puts all life on hold for the World Cup, get’s up for 5 am (or occasionally 3 am) games, and owns gear from multiple national teams. As an American with an European-mutt heritage, I have a strong preference towards rooting for the national teams I feel most connected to—Switzerland (where relative on the Holzgang side are still living), Germany (where the other side of my family is from and home to many of my friends), and Greece (because I spent a summer living on a Greek island). Neither Greece or America made the cut this year, but the rest of my teams did. This year I’m also cheering for my new favorite Cinderella team, Iceland.
I’m not just a fan during the big events either. I’ve also been known to drag myself out of bed at 4 am to go queue up for good seats to watch my favorite MLS team: the Portland Timbers. But my love of soccer didn’t happen overnight. Or maybe it did, when I was 5 years old. Like every little kid in America (or maybe this is just an Oregon thing? Let me know), I grew up playing soccer. Between fall soccer and spring soccer and summer soccer camps, it was pretty much a year-round event throughout most of my earlier years. For a long time, it was also the only sport I cared to watch on tv. For the exception of the occasional pickup game, I don’t really play much anymore; nevertheless, I do credit soccer for my love of sport.
My relationship with sport has grown into one of the most important factors in my personal well-being, with running bring the central element to my overall self-care regimen. I consider running to be my main sport. I love running: short distances, long distances, trail… all of it. Running is how I reset on days where nothing seems to go right. It’s how I destress when life is feeling a little too much. It’s how I get space and time to think when I’m facing a problem. Running is how I keep bad habits at bay and shut out voices that tell me I’m not good enough. It helps me not sweat the small stuff and keeps me from feeling as weighted down by the bigger stuff. Running is the kindest thing I can do for myself. It turns out it always has been. I played midfield as a kid, running up and down the field, often for the whole game because the team was too small to sub me out. I gave up sports around the time I started playing violin but I often wonder if I’d kept up with sports, if I would have had an easier time dealing with all the change happening in life throughout junior high and high school.
It’s not just the physical and mental benefits from playing sports that has made it an important part of my life—watching sports is the center of much of my social life as well. This is something I really grew into in college. I was lucky enough to attend the University of Oregon during some of our best football seasons ever. Watching games with friends was how I created some of my first friendships and the only reason I actually understand and life football. In college, I also found myself surrounded by soccer fans. I landed myself in a friends circle that would get up early and drink coffee at bars while watching Champions League. It became the most at home I ever felt in a social group (I was more of a social floater and never really solidly belong to a friends group as a kid). The local fans of the European soccer leagues created a social scene where I finally felt like I belonged. This has expanded for me after college with the MLS (Portland Timbers officially went pro, joined the MLS the same year I moved to Portland).
Out of all the major games/tournaments that happen in sports, the World Cup is by far my favorite. Beyond the game, it’s a major marker in time in my life. The 2010 games was the summer I had graduated from college. I was moving to Portland and trying to figure out what I was doing with my life. The 2014 games was during the year I made a my huge career change to be a full-time freelancer and part-time teacher. The decisions I made during that World Cup are what put me on a completely difference life path than I’d ever anticipated. It lead to my move to China and my eventual move back into advertising. These 2018 games? While I have an idea of what significant marker they will represent for me but as we’re only in the first round of matches, I don’t think it’s appropriate to call it quite yet.
Would this year’s World Cup be a bit more exciting if America was actually playing? Sure. It’s always fun when the “home” team makes it in, but I’m still enjoying every moment of this year’s tournament regardless.
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.