A Year on The Pitch

I didn’t grow up watching soccer. As a kid, my rooting interests skewed in the direction of my father: baseball, football, and basketball with a D.C. slant. Every morning, we’d trade pages of the the Washington Post sports section and by 5th grade I’d become a traveling D.C. sports almanac, tracking Darrell Green interceptions and Mike Mussina strikeouts with a rigor that I rarely applied to long division.

In high school, things changed. I sought out music and movies that were esoteric because I’d convinced myself that complex experiences carried more weight than simple ones. I started going to shows at the Black Cat and 9:30 Club. My pants got tighter. I stopped watching football games on Sundays with my dad.

I don’t quite remember what made me want to go to a D.C. United game one summer home from college. Hindsight tells me that I probably missed playing soccer, but that’s tidying up a sequence of thought that wasn’t quite so linear at the time.

I dragged a friend to RFK and we got seats on the quiet side of the stadium. I don’t recall much else from that game — not the score or the opponent—but I will never forget the inescapable, undulating rhythms of the Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles. As much as I watched the match, I watched the fans, bouncing the stands up and down for 90 minutes united in song and sweat and beer.

I’m somewhere behind the lion.

I went back to RFK again and again that summer and every summer since, escaping the agonies of individuality in the crush of the collective. Back at college, I’d pirate match live-streams from dim corners of the Internet and commune with other fans in the comments section of Steven Goff’s Soccer Insider blog, showing up late to parties with the fragments of matches still swimming in my head.

When I started writing this year — my first year writing things —I wanted to write about soccer.

For this, I’d first like to thank the folks at Eight by Eight Magazine for allowing me to ramble about the U.S. team and Jurgen’s blue polo shirt this summer during the World Cup. Their early support and belief cannot be overstated.

In Issue 04 of Eight by Eight, I reported and wrote a profile of DeAndre Yedlin and the U.S. youth academy system. Thanks especially to Miles Kohrman for being a steady thought partner, editor, and cheerleader for the piece.

In October, I went to Hartford to watch Landon Donovan’s final U.S national team match and wrote my favorite paragraph of 2014 after the game.

While we will all miss Landon, I think what we will miss more was this moment in American soccer history. The field on which we played was as open as Algeria’s defense on that famous counter-attack in 2010, and we were able to shape this game into an institution that will extend beyond us in perpetuity. Sure there were moments of irritation and angst, but it was also really, really fun to shock the world with Yankee fight and spirit. Just as we watched Landon grow from a kid into a man, we also watched soccer in America weather the woes of adolescence and anxieties of youth.

Also, a big thank you to the good people at The Baffler who let me write about the intersection between sports and American culture. In my favorite piece for them, I debunked the long-standing myth that poverty is a breeding ground for athletic success in “Hungry for Success: A Sports Myth”.

And in The Guardian, I returned to my D.C. roots and wrote about D.C. United’s worst-to-first turnaround season. Reporting that story took me back home and back to my dad who has started following United and American soccer this year. After games, he’ll call me to revel in a moment of Fabian Espindola invention or an inconceivable Tim Howard save.

It’s a small thing, and we don’t need much else.