One of the reasons I enjoy soccer so much is that it never ceases to amaze me.
It’s not just aberrations like a 7-1 German victory over Brazil in the World Cup semifinals, which, to provide some non-soccer context, is like the Arizona Wildcats defeating Oregon 98-3 in the other kind of football.
And certainly there’s the astonishment of watching Costa Rica, a country of 4.7 million that’s about the size of West Virginia, reach the quarterfinals of the sport’s biggest event. Something I might not likely see again in my lifetime.
My latest amazement occurred while watching Sunday’s World Cup final, but it had little to do with Germany’s 1-0 extra-time win over Argentina, other than where I was taking in the match that a billion other people were watching on televisions across the world.
Looking around the Ann Kathryn Schmidt Kickin’ It Clubhouse on the city’s north side, I saw an almost life-size picture of sprawling goalkeeper Luis Robles, a former Tucson Soccer Academy product now with the New York Red Bulls. Around the corner was a trophy case full of national and regional awards.
The clubhouse, which was created by the folks at TSA to provide a place for young players to develop their skills, oozes with mementos that show the impact soccer has made in this neck of the desert.
I sat in awe, not of Germany’s collective skill nor of Argentine Lionel Messi’s individual brilliance on Sunday, but of how far soccer has come in the Old Pueblo since I wrote my first story about the game 28 years ago.
Sitting near me — that was when I wasn’t pacing about as Sunday’s match stretched on at a scoreless pace — was Wolfgang Weber. In soccer terms, he is the No. 10 that has guided Tucson soccer to it success.
He also sits in awe of what has transpired since he helped start a youth program here 40 years ago.
“It’s amazing,” Weber said. “You always have that hope that it would make an impact in the U.S. This is a real exercise of perseverance, if you will.”
In the last few years, Tucson has certainly reaped the benefits of that perseverance — from the inception of FC Tucson to the arrival of Major League Soccer preseason training to the impressive ambiance created when fans descended on downtown for the U.S. matches in recent weeks. Tucson’s success mirrors what is happening all over the country.
“What we are feeling here in Tucson, that momentum, I think soccer all over the country is feeling that same thing,” said TSA director of coaching Jeff Rogers, who was the first Tucson-area player to sign a professional soccer contract. “People that didn’t really get it are starting to understand how profound this sport is and how important it is to so many people around the world.”
This year’s event in Brazil was a perfect example. During my first World Cup abroad in 1998, I spent an entire month in Paris. Not once did I meet another American who was in Paris specifically because of the soccer. But in my recent two weeks in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, I was crossing paths with an American every few hours who made the trip with a ticket or two to the matches. Some of them didn’t even have tickets, yet “wanted to be here for the fun.”
Since its inception in 1930, the World Cup has been thinking globally. Now, Americans, especially those in Tucson, are acting locally. Who knows where the next four years will take us? Hopefully, it will be Russia.