I’m not a big soccer fan, but I think I’m as patriotic as they come.
That’s why every four years, when the World Cup rolls around, I find myself eager with anticipation of how the American squad can perform on the world stage.
The first World Cup I remember was when Italy hosted the tournament in 1990. It was notable mainly because it was the first time America had qualified for the tournament since 1950.
The first World Cup I got excited about was the following one, in 1994 when the United States played host.
That American squad, led by defender Alexi Lalas, midfielders Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos and Cobi Jones, and goalkeeper Tony Meola, captured my attention when they tied Switzerland in the opening match of pool play, then followed with a win against Colombia. They did well enough to be one of the 16 teams to qualify for the second round.
Even though the Americans lost the second-round game to eventual champion Brazil, there was still room for pride.
I remember dreaming of an American Cinderella story as the U.S. team played a scoreless match until Brazil scored in the 72nd minute, and watched to the bitter end hoping for a tying goal.
My next most memorable World Cup was the most recent, for a specific reason.
I’m a cancer survivor, and I watched one of the most exciting and famous U.S. soccer matches while at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston waiting to be called in for a chemotherapy treatment.
It was June 23, 2010, and the Americans were facing Algeria, and having mustered only ties in their previous two group games, a loss would have most certainly meant elimination.
It was a Wednesday. No, I’m not one of those people who have instant recall, but for the nine months I received chemo, every other Wednesday was chemo day.
The way things work at M.D. Anderson is you have your blood work done immediately upon arrival. Then, you had to wait an hour or two before they had the meds and a bed ready.
So I knew the U.S. was playing, and found a television in a pharmacy area not too far from where I would be taking my chemo.
One of the most interesting things about M.D. Anderson is it’s a United Nations of hospitals in that people from all across the world go there for treatment. It was neat to hear all the different languages as you rode in an elevator or walked through the halls.
This day was no different, as the crowd watching the match along with me looked to be from many different nationalities.
Yet the roar that emanated from us all when Landon Donovan put the rebound of a blocked Clint Dempsey shot into the back of the net for 1-0 lead in the first minute of stoppage time made me think that despite the different shades of skin color, there were a majority of Americans in that room.
I remember the chemo not being as bad that day, probably because of the emotional boost Team USA had given me. By the way, I’ll be four years cancer-free in January.
Only once have the Americans advanced beyond the Round of 16 — in 2002 when they defeated Mexico, 2-0 — and this year’s team enters the tournament facing tough competition in group play, and coach Jürgen Klinsmann not only left Donovan off the final U.S. roster, but was quoted in The New York Times saying the Americans cannot win this World Cup.
Yet I’ll be ready for the opener June 16 against Ghana, draped in red, white and blue, getting my every-fourth-year soccer fix.