Fandom Week Column: Soccer, my new amore?

United States' Clint Dempsey reacts during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Trinidad and Tobago in Couva, Trinidad, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

United States' Clint Dempsey reacts during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Trinidad and Tobago in Couva, Trinidad, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

This week, Daily Campus Sports is celebrating both the highs and the lows of invested fandom with a series of personal articles telling the stories of our sports memories. This is Fandom Week.

Around the time of the 2006 World Cup, I received a crisp blue Francesco Totti Italian national soccer team jersey. I’m not sure if it was before, during or (likely) after, but I am sure the first soccer game I have memory of watching was that 2006 final in which the nation of my heritage defeated the French national team.

Like most kids, I grew up playing soccer, and some of my best friends growing up were our towns best players who cared a lot more than I did. But I never was a fan of the game and that was exacerbated when I gave up playing after the fifth grade.

Ever since 2006, I have loved the World Cup and I get a lot of enjoyment in watching it. I love international sports in general, and the “Jogo Bonito” is the pinnacle of that. It didn’t hurt that I could root for perennial powerhouse Gli Azzurri and they would reward me without fail.

Even more so, I attentively watched the USA and our tough draws over the years have led to plenty of entertaining moments.

But I never really cared about club soccer, domestically or abroad, even as the New England Revolution were consistently competing for MLS Cups right down the street. World Cup qualifiers didn’t do much for me, either.

Since I’ve come to UConn, that has really changed. Soccer is growing in the United States and European soccer is much more prevalent in our media, so it was going to be hard for me to avoid it. But now I’m really a soccer fan.

It started last year for the most part. I had a roommate who was a major Real Madrid fan. Looking for any chance to needle him, I took up the fandom of Juventus, one of their top challengers in the Champions’ League who had the Italian player-base and homeland I needed.

I’ve made several friends and acquaintances who I discovered were supporters of particular Premier League squads (Why is it always Liverpool? People do realize they are owned by John Henry, right?), so I became literate in the EPL.

I got a job with Event Operations in the UConn Athletic Department, forcing me to go to my first UConn Men’s Soccer game. Now I check after every game to see if Abdou Mbacke Thiam has added to his goal total.

I was assigned to cover women’s soccer last fall, where I became a lot closer with my fellow writer Antonio Salazar. I was able to spit some ancient MLS knowledge I had from reading Grant Wahl’s book “The Beckham Experiment” as a starting point. Thankfully, he educated me further in the modern MLS and more importantly to me, the Hex.

Toni, you honestly taught me so much. With all this new-found comprehension, I was able to dive back into the world of soccer.

I’m still not all the way there yet. I watched a lot of the USA qualifying campaign, as well the Gold cup. I paid attention to Juventus’ performance in Champions’ League and was saddened by their runner-up finish. I read a book about FIFA corruption and extensively followed China’s woes at World Cup qualifying at the sake of my roommate. I pay attention to the ebb and flow of MLS and the New England Revolution. I went to my first UConn men’s soccer game as a fan this fall.

However, I also don’t watch a lot of the action. I only watched about 30 minutes of Revolution action this year. Other MLS action? Non-existent. I don’t make time for and haven’t watched any of Italy and Juventus’ matches like core followers do. I peruse the tweets of and read the articles written by Wahl, Brian Straus and Alexi Lalas, but can’t bring myself to make the full commitment of following them. I blew off the United States crucial game against Panama.

I think I am still deciding if, and how much, of a soccer fan I really am. I am absolutely crushed the US won’t be in Russia in 2018. The narrative has been their failure was bad for soccer, but even more so it was bad for my evolving fandom.

I see more and more why the game appeals to the entire globe, but at the same time a lot of the tactical nuances are above me. I do know one thing, the old Totti jersey no longer fits and is long gone. But this summer, my new Gigi Buffon jersey is ready to go and its Forza Italia bambino.


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.