"Soccer is a ticket to the world." -- Dr. Tommy Clark, as quoted in W.D. Wetherell's Soccer Dad: a father, a son and a magic season
My plans to celebrate our daughter's first birthday at Real Maryland's Open Cup qualifying match with the local amateur club Aegean Hawks was foiled by brilliant thunderstorms rolling through Maryland's suburbs. It would have been, admittedly, a strange way to mark the occasion, but then she's been to more professional soccer matches in one year then I went to my entire childhood (a total of two Chicago Sting games -- one indoor and one at Soldier Field). And she loves the reaction she gets from children and adults alike when she waddles about in the Ecuador kit that her aunt picked up for her when she was living down there. At Real Maryland matches, she fits in perfectly with the other kids that are decked out in the national jerseys of Honduras, El Salvador, and seemingly random countries (France, Germany, Argentina). Having missed the Real Maryland game, we'll see how she does at the DC United -- Chicago Fire match at RFK on Saturday night.
In lieu of getting a chance to watch any World Cup Qualifiers this week (including Ecuador's remarkable upset of Argentina in Quito), I devoured W.D. Wetherell's phenomenal Soccer Dad; a book tracking his son's final season as a high school soccer player at perennial New Hampshire powerhouse Hanover High. It is a quick read but an interesting contemplation of fatherhood in a sports-obsessed culture. Hanover High School also happens to be the alma mater of Dr. Tommy Clark, the founder of Grassroots Soccer -- an organization dedicated to increasing awareness of the HIV epidemic that continues to plague Southern Africa (which is being ably promoted by Ethan Zohn). As such, Dr. Clark's history is presented as an interlude to Wetherell's already compelling narrative. Dr. Clark is the son of a former Aberdeen keeper, an alum of both Dartmouth undergrad and medical school, and someone who lived in Scotland, Zimbabwe, and the United States before reaching 21 years of age. When Dr. Clark talks about a ticket to the world, it is not superficial Thomas Friedman flat-world crap, it is the substance from which we draw hope about the future of the planet.
For every thing else there is that I love about the sport, the quality that stands above all others is that the game makes the world more accessible. It is what I hope to engender in my daughter by introducing her to the pastime. That desire is somewhat ironic given that I am, in general, a fortress America protectionist with an unwavering faith in this country's supremacy. That view, however, is not all-encompassing and soccer is a useful reminder of how much the the rest of the world has to offer (there are plenty of other such reminders, but something as minor as soccer is sufficient for me).