Father's Day, World Cup, W.P.S. and More

From South Africa to Anderson Park — soccer is a game that transcends the field on so many levels. I want to start with a quick Father’s Day shout-out to my dad, Paul. I’m sure there are a lot of great dads out there, but my father is one of my best friends, my coach (in life and soccer), mentor and so much more. He took me to my first practice and took me after to buy spikes (as he called them) and shinguards. He watched videos with me to learn about the game, drove me to team trainings and has been my biggest fan throughout. His belief in me has been my motivation through the hard times and he has not only inspired me to go after my goals, but also showed me the way. He still times my fitness, throws me volley, and is there through the tears and frustration, but also the great moments.

The World Cup so far has been yet another reminder why fútbol is such a fascinating game. In few sports could a team as talented as Spain lose to an opponent that they dominated as thoroughly as they did Switzerland. Then, Germany’s euphoric 4-0 thrashing of Australia before a defeat to Serbia.

There have been moments of brilliance and then absolute blunders — mistakes you expect would stop after the days of youth soccer. I guess that’s what keeps me tuned in, recording and watching as many games as I can — you really never know what is going to happen. I love how every team has its unique style and personality. So far my favorites (in style of play) are Spain, Argentina and Brazil. Spain makes the game so simple. Its passing and movement off the ball is exquisite — my ideal vision of how the game should be played. Argentina and Brazil are so dynamic and attacking-oriented. Any player on the field for them can take over and change the game, yet they work together, interchanging, in such a free-flowing style. They make the game look like art.

The ups and downs on the field are only the tip of the iceberg. If you just look at the fans in the stands you can see that the World Cup is about so much more than fútbol. It’s about national pride, hope and the world coming together to enjoy some great entertainment. Whichever team prevails (I really hope it’s Spain!!), it will be a long road, strewn with ups and downs.

This bumpy path is one that is familiar to anyone who plays, or is a fan of the game. Sky Blue F.C. is currently navigating its own ups and downs of theW.P.S. season. We recently traveled to Boston and defeated the Boston Breakers, 2-1, on a penalty kick in the 90th minute. To be fair, Boston dominated the game, and we were lucky to come away with three points. This past weekend we were beaten, 4-1, at home by the Philadelphia Independence. It was a poor result, especially on our home field. So now it’s time to regroup and look at what we can do to be a better team and grab the three points on the West Coast next weekend.

During the five-hour bus ride back from Boston, I had a lot of time to think and write in my journal … but more than write, I read — looked back through old lists, quotations, goals.

I love this quotation by Thomas Buxton that I rediscovered on the bus ride:

“The difference between one person and another, between the weak and the powerful, the great and the insignificant, is energy — invisible determination. This quality will do anything that has to be done in the world, and no talents, no circumstances, no opportunities will make you a great person without it.”

I was reminded of it a second time the other day when I was talking to my friend, Sola Abolaji. Sola has played pro fútbol at various levels and is currently training and coming back from a knee injury. He is one of the few people I have ever met who completely gets the insanity with which I pursue my dreams. When it comes to crazy, the cliché it takes one to know one, couldn’t be more accurate. Sola might be the only person I know who trains more than I do and is more obsessed with every bit of the minutia of fútbol.

In many ways, he has been my mentor and he constantly teaches me about the game, the process of trainin, and a lot about myself. We were talking about passions, goals and aspiring to greatness. Sola said, “I think everyone wants to be the best they can be.” My response: “Yeah, but there’s being the best you can be … and then there’s doing everything in your power to make it happen. A lot of people do their best. But we do more than our best. We do crazy things!”

It’s so hard to explain the drive I have. It goes beyond hard work, goal-setting, achievement. It is a mental, emotional and at times a spiritual commitment. This commitment that goes so far beyond the physical effort is that it doesn’t really guarantee anything. If anything, it only guarantees that at some point you will be upset, frustrated and disappointed. I’m sure that at times people who care a lot less accomplish a lot more (this applies to any area in life, not only fútbol). So why care so much and make that extra emotional investment?

I bet you were expecting an answer to that question … but it’s one that I ask myself all the time and still have no clear reason! Why do I care so much? Why does this game have the power to make me cry, scream, or feel such devastation or elation? I’m not quite sure. But what I do know is that I empower it to do so. And anyone who has something in their life that can make them feel this way has empowered that thing by being passionate about it.

I find great personal fulfillment in the way I pursue my fútbol dreams — with abandon. I hope that everyone finds something in life that they are passionate enough about to which to devote themselves fully. Maybe it is raising a family, playing an instrument, teaching math, or an athletic endeavor. But the more of yourself you put into something, the more special the return.

I am constantly reminded, in so many different and unique ways, why fútbol is so incredibly special to me, and why much of the world shares this feeling. As I sat on my living room floor one afternoon replaying and pausing Mexico’s World Cup goal against France several times so I could explain to my grandma the offside rule, I couldn’t help but smile. She’s visiting from San Francisco, and probably never looked twice at a game until well into her 80s. But here she is, watching game after game, asking for clarification on offside, talking about how Germany had the most decisive victory so far in the tournament, and telling us that Ronaldo and Messi are her favorite players. My grandma!

On Sunday, after watching the World Cup games, I went to Anderson Park (in Montclair, N.J., the site of my first ever soccer practice) with my sister and best friend, Shira, to help her train. She got home last week from Stanford. I didn’t play with her because I was sore and tired from training, but I threw her balls and led her through a technical session similar to what I do a lot of times. As I made suggestions of things to try, and she did them with ease and understanding, I remembered so clearly why she is my favorite person to play and train with. At the end, I sat in the grass while she stretched and we laughed and talked … I couldn’t help but think that if this was all this game had brought into my life — moments like this — then I would be satisfied.