Growing up in Maryland provided me with many different opportunities to play sports as a kid. Football, lacrosse and baseball were all popular, of course. Given the small chance that I could withstand being tackled by kids roughly twice my weight or being hit by a lacrosse ball, as well as my general lack of arm strength, I needed a different venue to fulfill my athletic desires. Soccer was this outlet during most of my childhood. The speed, quick thinking and technical skill of the game enthralled me and continues to do so today. I would argue that there are only a few events that can match the thrill of a Champions League final or a World Cup match.

I played in a rec league once a week from kindergarten to middle school. Looking back on it, going to pee-wee soccer games must have been like watching amateur ping pong. The ball moves up and down the field with every kid within 10 feet of it at all times. You can imagine the strategy: kick the ball in front of you as hard as you can at all times. As I switched between goalie, midfield, sweeper and even an unsuccessful year as a forward, I always felt like I owned the field. Year by year, my teammates and I slowly developed real dribbling moves and actual passing techniques. Eventually, I got to the point where the ball’s movement slowed I could envision what the field was going to look like three or four seconds ahead of time.

The game is as straightforward as it gets. But as simple as the rules might be, the skills and moves that professional soccer players exhibit are as awe-inspiring as you will see human beings attempt. Watching attacker Cristiano Ronaldo slow step with the ball as he’s about to attempt to fake out a defender gives me shivers every time I see it. Imagine yourself as that defender and that ‘oh ‘@#*!” moment when you know there is nothing you can do to stop him.

This year’s EURO Championship tournament exemplified the thrill of the sport. Spain, traditionally talented, broke through its losing mentality and bagged the gold. Russian forwards Andrei Arshavin and Ramon Pavlyuchenko displayed incredible speed, field vision and passing precision, turning heads with every touch of the ball. Seeing their play was like watching LeBron and Kobe team up against high schoolers. The group match between Switzerland and Turkey that was played in a torrential downpour was an absolute classic where Turkey broke a 1-1 tie in the closing seconds with a strike from the edge of the box. After watching a generally spiritless World Cup, this tournament was filled with highs and lows with every game as a toss-up.

When I got to high school, I left playing soccer behind. Not until I played intramurals last semester did I get the exhilaration that I had enjoyed years ago. My team (all members of the Campus Times, of course) lost every game, but it was still a ton of fun.

Soccer may never become the top sport in the United States, but its universal appeal is bound to catch up. While David Beckham’s pinpoint free kicks created buzz last summer, it will take more well-known transfers from European leagues and home-grown stars to sustain the professional side of the sport in this country. Until then, though, the magic of American soccer will continue to lie in the youth leagues or college intramural and varsity teams.

Wasserman is a member of the class of 2010.

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