Growing up in a ‘burb of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, much of what my brother and our (mainly boy) neighbors did was run around in our backyards and play sports, including but not limited to soccer, football, basketball, and hockey on our neighborhood street. Since my brother, Jonathan, is older than me, he was someone I looked up to, so oftentimes whatever he did, I wanted to do. That, in turn, meant I played soccer.
From the ripe age of four, I started soccer with a recreational (obviously, I was four) league in Blaine, Minnesota.
With the ball at my feet.
A few years later, Jonathan started playing on a team with our local league, NSSA (North Suburban Soccer Association), and therefore, I did as well. For years, I was reared in the NSSA system; practice hard, play hard (I got quite a few yellow cards in my day), have fun. I learned NSSA’s biggest rivals were White Bear Lake and MapleBrook (Maple Grove) teams, the correct way to say Bobby Theisen (not Thee-son, but Tie-son), and that your teammates would become your best friends.
Not only did my brother and I enjoy playing soccer for nearly a decade with NSSA, soccer became a family affair as both my mother and father got into the beautiful game. My mom coached my team for a few years until we hired coaches who knew more about soccer, while my dad also coached my brother’s team and took referee classes to became a licensed ref.
My soccer eyes opened even more by growing up in the north suburbs of the Twin Cities because of its close proximity to Blaine’s National Sports Center and the opportunities to watch soccer fifteen minutes from my house. The former-Minnesota Thunder (now North American Soccer League’s (NASL) Minnesota Stars FC) played at the NSC, and it practically became a family tradition to watch the Thunder play on the fourth of July, followed by watching the fireworks show from the stadium. The National Sports Center became a second-home of sorts, as my NSSA team would play in the Schwan’s USA Cup every July. For other teams from out of state or country, the tournament is something that those clubs strive to play in, whereas for NSSA’s traveling teams it was more of a rite of passage. Then there were times that surpassed and banished every conceived notion of how cool you thought soccer was (and is), as the photo below showcases Pele at the opening ceremony of the USA Cup. Seriously, mind-blowing.
Pele (standing up in the limo) waving to the spectators.
Another awesome opportunity of growing up playing soccer with NSSA was the ability for local soccer families to home-stay British kids who played at the USA Cup. For three consecutive years, my brother’s team hosted a group of teenage boys from a London-based youth football club. It should be said that after being influenced from the tender age of 10, I was ingrained to love Tottenham Hotspur by those dang Brits.
My brother’s team played a ‘friendly’ with the British kids that were on the home-stay with us. I obviously played. (Sitting down in front.)
Because it was so intertwined with my growing up, I will never be able to divorce myself from the sport, nor would I want to. From playing soccer at the YMCA, Blaine recreational league and North Suburban Soccer Association, to intramurals at Drake University and now adult indoor soccer in Des Moines, I’ve come to realize that soccer is more than just a sport. It creates friendships, embraces individuality, showcases a player’s personality, excites the mind with quick and momentary reactions, increases spatial awareness and foot-eye coordination, and brings happiness to the heart with the pure joy of the beautiful game. Win or lose, it’s about love of the sport.
Did I have some soccer legs or what? Dang.
Even when I wasn’t playing soccer, I wore something affiliated with soccer. Case in point, this Tottenham shirt.
Playing soccer at the local YMCA. Long hair, don’t care.
Kicking the ball up the pitch in high school. I played defense. Also, check out those old school kits.
When I was 15? This was one of the many tournaments we won.
Soccer. More than a game.