By Cody Worsham
From the Amazon has emerged a contagion that is spreading like wildfire through America this summer.
If you’ve been bitten by Brazil’s soccer bug throughout the duration of the 2014 World Cup, you’re not alone. Soccer has long been growing in the United States. As far back as 2010, a year after the bug first sunk its teeth into this writer, ESPN’s research team has known the sport is the second most popular among American males aged 12-24, trailing only NFL football and leading college football.
Four years on, that age range has grown up, and so has the sport’s domestic support. The success of the World Cup – with its record ratings and advertising revenue sales – has only reinforced the point that soccer is here to stay in the U.S.
However, with the World Cup finished on Saturday and Germany crowned champions, many fans new to the game are curious as to how they can follow the beautiful game throughout the rest of the year. The world’s game can be difficult for a newcomer, with its complicated schedules and various leagues spread across the planet.
For those who, like Luis Suarez inside the 18, are taking the dive, here is a guide to transitioning from the World Cup to the rest of the world of soccer.
1. Play FIFA’s video game series
Seriously. There’s not a better introduction to the players, the leagues, and the tactics of the world’s game than the outstanding video game series from EA Sports.
It’s available for PC, Xbox, and Playstation consoles. I’d recommend buying FIFA 14 so you’re relatively up to date on the rosters and players, but FIFA 15 comes out September 26, so you may want to rent or borrow a copy from a friend.
Play around with a few teams. You’ll learn the difference between national teams, like the U.S. and Germany, and club teams, like Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. (Just like LeBron James plays for the Cavaliers and Team U.S.A., so to do the world’s best soccer players play for club and country).
Did a particular player stick out to you while watching the World Cup? A quick Google search will reveal that player’s club team, and you can begin laying the foundation for the next step.
2. Pick a club to follow
To really immerse yourself in soccer, you’ll need a team to root for. The more you have invested in a game you’re watching, the more you’ll enjoy it, so pick a side. Start with the team you like playing with most on FIFA.
I recommend starting with a team from the British Premier League. It’s one of the best leagues in the world – Germany, Spain, and, to a lesser degree, Italy and France, all have exceptional domestic leagues, but the BPL has no language barrier for English-speakers to overcome, and it’s broadcast in the U.S. through NBC and is thus easily accessible.
If you can’t narrow your choices down, pick multiple teams to watch, but shoot for variety, in both location and quality. Some of the better teams, like Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Real Madrid, will play in multiple “leagues,” such as the Champions League, which brings together the best teams from all of Europe’s leagues for a season-long tournament. Find a team to support in that competition, but if you’re feeling individualistic, branch out into the less successful clubs, and picking teams from multiple leagues – such as one from the BPL and another from Germany’s Bundesliga – will help you learn the ropes.
If you’re a patriot, you might also want to pick a Major League Soccer team to follow in the U.S. Just as the U.S. National Team isn’t up to the standard of Germany or Argentina, MLS doesn’t produce soccer of the quality of Europe’s top leagues, but it can still be highly entertaining, and the season runs throughout the summer, so now is a perfect time to jump in. (Note: MLS games are broadcast on ESPN, NBC, and local cable stations, and the league also shows game online and on mobile devices through MLS Live, on sale now for half-price).
3. Watch and Learn
Watch as much soccer as you can. BPL games often come on early during the weekends, which is a great way to kick off a day of soccer and football, and MLS games come on during easily watched hours.
Various local venues, like The Varsity and The Londoner, broadcast games early for patrons, and it’s a great way to socialize and learn the game from more experienced views.
Don’t pretend you know what you’re watching if you don’t. No one likes a poser. Ask questions. Soccer has some odd rules and nuances, like playing advantage or offside, so surround yourself with people who know the game and don’t mind answering questions.
Many soccer fans are as loyal to their teams as Tiger fans are to the purple and gold, and they’ll say switching club allegiances is sacrilege.
Screw ‘em. If you don’t like the team you picked from the outset, drop them for another you do like, particularly regarding European clubs. It’s unlikely you have any true geographical or personal reasons for picking one of those teams, so don’t feel like you’re stuck rooting for them if they don’t tickle your fancy.
For God’s sake, I used to be a Chelsea fan. I’ve since come to my senses and have pledged my fealty to Arsenal. It may take some flip-flopping to find the right fit. Despite what diehards may tell you, you’re not bound to a club. It’s like falling in love – there are no rules*, and it’s different for everyone. Just watch, and enjoy.
*But seriously. Don’t pick Chelsea. They’re unbearable.
Like eating a Reese’s, there’s no wrong way to pick a soccer team to support. Here are a few of the most popular methods:
- The Star: Support your favorite player’s team. Chances are, if a particular player stood out to you at the World Cup, he plays for an elite team, so jump on the bandwagon.
- The Shirt: Like basketball, soccer is a sport closely entwined in the fashion world. Players dress well and date models, so don’t be afraid to pick a team because you like their uniform (hint: it’s called a “kit” in soccer).
- The City: For MLS, this makes the most sense. A nearby team, like the Houston Dynamo, are easy to get behind, or maybe your family is from – or you’ve visited and loved – another city with a franchise to support. Likewise, some like to support European teams from countries they’ve visited or can trace their lineage to.