A Q&A With Our Soccer Skeptic

As my friends and family have taken notice of this World Cup Immersion project, I’ve received a lot of questions via texts, tweets, messages, and even in person.

So, I thought I’d compile the seven most frequently asked questions I’ve been getting, along with my answers.

“Who are you rooting for to win it all? Do you have a favorite team?”

With the U.S. not in this tournament, I certainly did not have a clear-cut favorite coming in, but there is one team I am pulling for above all the others. That team is Portugal.

My mother’s side of the family comes from Portugal – the Madeira Islands of Portugal to be exact – so I’ve got a lot of Portuguese blood running through my veins. Couple the genetics with my predilection for watching the biggest stars perform on the biggest stage, and that makes Ronaldo’s side the team I am pulling for the hardest right now.

My Honorable Mention? Denmark, but only because I want to yell “Schmeichel!” every time he makes a save as much as possible over these next few weeks.

“There are so many games! Are you looking forward to this tournament being over already?”

Absolutely not. But I will say that I am starting to get antsy for the knockout stage to begin, for two reasons.

One – I’m looking forward to better matchups. The possibility of a Brazil – Germany matchup in the round of 16, for example, is absolutely tantalizing.

Two – I’m looking forward to being done with draws. A match that ends tied isn’t a total bust; the Portugal-Spain 3-3 affair was brilliant. But it will be nice to see some urgency when a draw nears completion, and also to see the drama of penalty kicks deciding a game, even if there’s a little too much luck involved in those outcomes for my taste.

But to answer the question again, “No.” I am really enjoying the World Cup.

“Why do you hate brunch!?!”

In my second piece for this project I made the offhand comment that “ brunch is the worst meal of the entire human existence,” and a few people really took umbrage with me. [Editor’s note: Us too.]

Who knew brunch had such staunch defenders?

Here’s the deal, I don’t hate brunch. It’s just that I really love breakfast, and I like lunch a lot too. Combining them both into one meal means less food, and food is wonderful. That’s all I was trying to say.

“If you think it’s fun watching soccer on television, you really need to go see a game live!”

This one isn’t really a question, but I’ve had a few people tell me this. I actually have been to a professional soccer match in person!

Five years ago my buddy Chad Gibbs took me and a couple friends on a weeklong trip to the Netherlands, and we took in an Ajax Amsterdam game. It was a cold February evening; so cold, in fact, that it snowed much for of the second half.

The passion of the crowd was infectious, and just like I had seen on television a few times before, the crowd was chanting and singing almost the entire game. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, but it was a pretty cool experience.

The most memorable part of the night was actually after the game as we walked back to the train station. We were surrounded by a crowd of a few thousand people that eventually dwindled to a few hundred that eventually dwindled to about fifty.

By the time our walking throng had been reduced to twenty people we realized we had made a big mistake. The train station was in the complete opposite direction and we had been walking with folks who lived in the community around the complex. We hadn’t even considered that so many folks had walked to the stadium from their homes!

So yes, I would love to get back out to see a big match in person in the future.  

“Did you see the messages that went viral of the girl giving her boyfriend play by play of the England-Tunisia game?”

Yes, yes I did. And it was amazing.

Like I said, amazing.

“He looks like he got hit in the hair,” is my new favorite sentence of all time.

 “Isn’t the flopping driving you insane? I can’t watch soccer because of it!”

I thought the NBA had a flopping problem until I watched soccer. I no longer think the NBA has a flopping problem.

While the flopping is often egregious, one positive I’ve taken from it is that it’s really made me aware of just how physical soccer is. Whether it’s two players trying to win a ball with their heads, aggressive tackles being made on the pitch, or even just jockeying for position on set pieces, this is a PHYSICAL game. Way more physical than basketball.

It’s also interesting to me that for the most part these players don’t take the physicality personally. You rarely see two players getting into an altercation and pretending like they’re about to fight like they do nightly in the NBA. It’s actually kind of refreshing.

And then, just when I’m starting to appreciate how physical the game is, someone gets hit in the hair and acts is if they’re getting stung by 1000 bees at once. You just have to laugh at it and take the good with the bad.

“So, do you love soccer now?”

This is probably the most common question, and honestly it’s just too early to say that my opinion on soccer has changed at this point. But I will say, I can sort of feel something starting to change in two key areas.

The first is that I am legitimately looking forward to some of these World Cup games, especially when great teams or big stars are involved. That is definitely a new feeling, and I only see it growing exponentially as we approach the final matches.

The second is that as I’m watching these games I’m starting to have an opinion about what I’m seeing. I’m noticing styles of play that I like and don’t like, and players that I really appreciate. When you invest this much time into something, you can’t help but be drawn to either extreme on it. Either you’re going to start hating it or start loving it.

Do I love soccer now? Not yet.

But talk to me in a few weeks.

“I learned all about life with a ball at my feet.”

Ronaldhino

Bryan Allain has spent 41 years of his life ignoring soccer in favor of the Red Sox and golf, the REAL beautiful game. (His words not ours). This is the account of his 30-day, all in, deep dive on the premier showcase of the most popular sport on earth, the 2018 World Cup.