Throughout the world, many people's exposure to the beautiful game comes from their father. All over, sons and daughters learn the game, find their club loyalties, and experience the dramatic euphoria and heartbreak of soccer with their fathers.
My dad was a little different than many fathers who share the game with their sons. He didn't grow up playing or watching soccer -- quite the opposite. He was as all-American as you can get, playing American football, baseball, and basketball in high school. My dad fell in love with soccer the way a lot of Americans first did, through snippets of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina shown on ABC's Wide World of Sports.
The passion and excitement in the broadcast was enough to ignite something inside my dad, and from there he sought to learn about the game with a single-minded dedication. Watching local amateur matches, consuming one of the early national soccer publications, Soccer America, and English magazines that arrived long after any of the news was even relevant. In a pre-cable TV and internet world, accessing the beautiful game was challenging.
Fortunately, as his passion for the game was increasing, the NASL came into being. All of a sudden America was soccer crazy, and my dad and his sons were right there among the craziest of them. Thanks to him, I can still boast that I saw Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, and George Best play live. First in Detroit and later in Atlanta, going to see NASL games became a regular family outing for us.
After the NASL folded, we still were an active soccer family. Moving to Orlando in the early 1980s, we found UCF men's and women's soccer. We went to the early Orlando Lions games and, most fortunately, the 1994 World Cup games that were played in Orlando.
Besides just watching games with a passion, he taught me the game as well -- at first, as a coach, and later, as a supportive parent. So many times during family dinner, salt shakers and half-and-half containers became players on a makeshift dinner table soccer field as we discussed the finer points of strategy. He always looked for ways to help my brother and I improve our game.
To this day, I still talk to him about my pick-up games and how I feel about my performance.
Now, of course, we talk Orlando City a lot. We both still have a sense of amazement at how far Orlando has come in terms of a soccer town. Despite the fact that he doesn't live in Orlando, he is still a passionate fan.
For my Dad and I, soccer became a way for us to communicate. When I was young, it was something we both found our passion for together. As I grew older, soccer became a way for us to build bridges of communication. It was easy to discuss this weekend's EPL action, how the U.S. national teams are developing, or how Orlando was doing in the league. Those easy conversations made the harder ones of life easier to have -- the guy I went to for advice on how to beat a defender off the dribble soon became the man I asked for life advice from.
The tradition continues, as my niece is a season ticket holder for Orlando City with her dad. She's been going since the beginning and still has opinions about Orlando moving Jamie Watson to Minnesota. With her dad she's learning the game and finding a passion for her local club that will last a lifetime.
For my dad and all the dads out there, a Happy Father's Day and thanks for sharing the passion and excitement of soccer with us. As always, Go City!