By Trey Mongrue
It was around 4 a.m. on a June 5th morning back in 2002. I can’t recall why the 11-year-old me woke up at that time, but I had and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I flipped on the television. Being the sports fan that I was, the first channel I went to was ESPN, however, instead of a SportsCenter rerun, a soccer match was on that morning.
It was the United States taking on Portugal in what was the first game for both teams in the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup, but I didn’t catch on to that right away. I just figured it would be something to watch as I waited for the rest of my brothers and sisters to wake up.
This wasn’t my first brush with soccer. In fact, the first organized sport I played as a kid was with the Sonics soccer team when I was four – my obsession with Sonic The Hedgehog videogames was what named the team.
This wasn’t even my first viewing of a World Cup match. That came in 1998 when my much older cousins, instead of playing outside at my grandparents’ house, forced me to watch the United States take on Iran. When the Iranians scored in the 64th minute on a counter attack to take a 2-1 lead, they were pretty upset.
I probably should have been too, but I was seven. I just wanted to go swing on my grandparents’ swing set.
Both of those times, soccer had its chance to scoop me up, but, no, it was that match against Portugal where it started for me.
Within 36 minutes, the U.S. was up 3-0 on a team that, throughout the broadcast, kept being referred to as one of the favorites to win the tournament. As the match continued, I was becoming more and more attached to the American players.
Tony Sanneh was the right back, but even though he played on the backline, he liked to push up on the attack. Brian McBride and Earnie Stewart were the veteran leaders (Claudio Reyna missed this match due to injury) and, at the time, the most technically gifted players that U.S. Soccer had produced. Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley were the future of the team and, if things progressed as they should, could lead the dawn of a new age for America.
The United States held on for a 3-2 win that day and achieved a crucial three points in its group, while also gaining a fan.
From that point on, I was waking up at an ungodly hour every day the U.S. was scheduled to play. When it all ended for the Americans in that heart-crushing loss to Germany in the quarterfinals, I barely talked for the rest of that day.
Twelve years later, my obsession with this sport has only gotten worse. I have no shame in admitting that I am a full-fledged soccer fan. And now, another World Cup is upon us and – despite the murderer’s row of Ghana, Portugal and Germany in America’s group – I think I’m even more excited now than I was back in 2002.
Unlike that morning so long ago, I now have more than a decade of attachment with this team. I have seen the evolution of soccer in the United States and I have grown up with the program. I have seen where the U.S. was, is now, and can potentially be.
That thought alone is what makes my palms sweaty with nervousness and creates a huge pit in my stomach as I type this.
Hopefully, this year’s World Cup will do the same thing for some kid as it did for me back in 2002.
The good news is that Brazil is on the same clock as us, so there won’t be any need for waking up at four o’clock in the morning – unless, of course, the United States wins the whole thing.
If that happens, I won’t be sleeping at all.