Hockey was my first sports love affair. The Columbus Blue Jackets are my team (I’ll pause for your laughter). I fell in love with them in 2010, while I was at Ohio State, and have enjoyed watching them slowly progress under new leadership. Hockey is the first sport I’ve ever been passionate about and the Blue Jackets are the first team I’ve ever grown with.
I thought I was happy following hockey, but then I was invited to a New York City FC match last October to watch them play against the Columbus Crew SC. I was there with my roommate, a fellow Ohio State grad, and we were rooting for the Crew in a sea of NYCFC fans. Always an awkward position to be in, but we were used to it from cheering on the Blue Jackets at New York Islanders games. Despite our unpopularity in the crowd, there was something about this particular soccer match that made me fall in love hard.
It was the end of the MLS season and tensions were high. Not only because this was the last match before the conference semifinals, but also because NYCFC was forced to play at Citi Field because the New York Yankees were in the playoffs; something that hasn’t ever happened before. Those two factors provided an electric energy that I have rarely felt at a sporting event and it helped that we had tickets about 30 feet from the pitch.
During this game I witnessed and felt the amount of drama that truly unfolds during a soccer match. Possession changes, bad or missed referee calls, the joy of a goal, and the anguish of a disconnected play. I found myself spellbound as I watched these incredible athletes run around for 90 minutes as they tried to get an 8.5-inch in diameter ball into 192 square feet of netting. The difficulty, yet simplicity of it all captured my imagination and emotions in a way that hockey did not.
Since that fateful day I’ve been avidly watching as much soccer as I can. I started off slow by watching Toronto FC win the MLS Cup, and then I moved onto the English Premier League (EPL), the German Bundesliga, and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). I was and am inhaling soccer. It astounded me how stylistically different German soccer is from British soccer and then how much fun it is to watch 2 European teams that wouldn’t normally meet, play each other in a UEFA Champion League game. Even the styles between different teams in the EPL are astounding to watch. Manchester City FC, who is dominating right now, plays a beautiful game of soccer where graceful plays can be followed. Then there’s a team like Liverpool FC who is exciting, volatile, raw, and was once described it to me as “heavy metal football”.
The variations and styles in domestic and international soccer teams are something I don’t get to experience with just the NHL and the energy of that one match started an obsession that has me feeling like soccer could be my new hockey.