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If ten years ago, you would've told me that one day I'd be emotionally invested in a soccer game, so much so that I'd be unleashing college basketball level-howls of indignation at missed calls , I would have laughed at you. Then mocked you. And depending on my mood, I might have tried to fight you.
If five years ago, you would've told me that I'd be so wrapped up in a soccer game that I'd spend two and a half anxiety-filled hours going through the kind of emotional ups and downs normally reserved for postseason baseball or overtime football, I simply would have shaken my head.
If two years ago, you would've told me that while watching a soccer game, I'd be spewing the kind vitriol typically reserved for Pittsburgh Steelers players, I would have given you a tilted look of skepticism
Yet there I was last night, all in. Completely invested and immersed. A couple of obligations prevented me from being at Nippert Stadium last night, and if a few years ago you would've told me that I'd watch a soccer game on TV longing to be in attendance, I would've openly mocked you. Fortunately, I had the excellent FC Cincinnati broadcasting trio of Tom Gelehrter, Kevin McCloskey, and Lindsay Patterson to guide me through a tension-filled evening as FC Cincinnati played the New York Red Bulls in the US Open Cup Semifinal.
I'm like many who've bought into to FC Cincinnati. I didn't grow up playing soccer. Didn't care about it enough to watch. Never considered it worth learning much about. Understood its popularity, appreciated its reach, but never found many reasons to care.
FC Cincinnati has changed that. And some.
I am not a very pleasant person to watch sports with, at least when my teams are involved in big games. People who know me well will confirm. I'll go on the radio and talk a big game about sports being a diversion and not allowing games to have that much control over you, and then I'll go home, curse at the TV for a few hours, throw remotes, and be generally unpleasant to be around as the game is taking place. There are good friends of mine who openly admit that they don't like watching sports with me. My fiancee has gotten really good at knowing when to head to another room. Exes of mine would probably tell you that on the list of the many, many thing they don't miss about me, being by my side when a big game is happening is near the top.
Last night, I was at my worst. Pacing in front of the TV. Gesticulating on the near-misses by both teams. Doing the whole spread-your-arms in outrage when a call wasn't made. Cursing New York players that taunted our guys. Yes, our guys. Calming my nerves with liquid remedies. Sensing with fear that the first Red Bulls goal was about the change the game. Urging a game-tying goal at the end. Feeling emotionally drained afterward.
And yes, at one point, when New York tied the game, a remote got thrown.
Are some of these things signs of immaturity? Yes. As I stare at turning 40 in less than two months, I'm way too old to be behaving like a nine year-old when sports are on. Is my level of interest and investment in FC Cincinnati a sign that I've evolved as a sports fan? Sure. I don't have many redeeming qualities, but I have become more open-minded as I've gotten older. I'm more open to trying new things than I was a decade ago.
But how I consumed the game last night, and reacted with every turn of an immensely compelling, thoroughly entertaining game, is more a reflection of a soccer team that's made me buy in, a club that's made us feel good, and a franchise that's done nearly everything right.
In two short years, FC Cincinnati has not only established itself as a significant part of the local sports landscape, but they've made fans out of people who not long ago, would never even conceive of watching a soccer game, much less getting wrapped up in one, and they've turned me into someone who not only enjoys watching them, but badly wants them to win.
Last night, as I reacted to every play, contorted my body on every scoring opportunity, and gasped for air in the game's most agonizing moments, my fiancee looked at me and asked "who are you?"
I'm an FC Cincinnati fan.
I'm a soccer fan.
Wonder what that guy from ten years ago would think.