A year ago, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a penalty kick and an indirect free kick.
Soccer is a sport that rarely, if ever, appeared on my radar before coming to Washington.
Growing up in rural northeast Missouri, the only sports offered were football, basketball, baseball, softball and track and field.
I’ve always been a baseball and football fan and played both sports from an early age and went out for every team I could up to high school. I also dabbled in basketball and throwing the shot put and discus.
However, my interest in other primary team sports like soccer and hockey never seemed to click into place.
A big part of why that has changed in the past year has been the success of area soccer teams with the Washington boys and Union girls both making it to the Final Four in the state tournaments this past academic year and hearing about Washington’s Lady Jays team doing the same the spring before I arrived.
I still don’t follow Major League Soccer or the English Premier League with any regularity and if a team doesn’t have the city where they play in the title, odds are I might not be able tell you which league that team plays in.
However, it’s World Cup season and for the first time ever, I’ve been paying more than just a passing interest to the games.
The hardest thing about taking an interest this year, is of course the absence of the United States from the 32-team field.
The U.S. failed to qualify by virtue of a 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago in a must-win game last October.
However, an announcement last week helped to ease the pain for U.S. soccer fans headed into this year’s tournament.
Last week we found out that the U.S., along with Canada and Mexico, won the rights to host the 2026 World Cup with a joint bid.
The result could see some of the most important soccer games in the world played as close as Kansas City or Nashville, along with Denver, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Orlando, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston in the U.S.
Host sites in Canada include Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton.
Mexican host cities are Mexico City, Monterey and Guadalajara.
This marks the first time the U.S. has been selected as a host for the World Cup, which take place every four years, since 1994.
Canada, like the U.S., is watching this year’s World Cup from home.
However, in the spirit of the 2026 joint bid, I’m supporting Mexico in this year’s tournament and Mexico presented plenty of thrills Sunday with a 1-0 win against perennial contender Germany, the defending champions from 2014.
The win sets Mexico up in great position to win the group in pool play.
Mexico and Germany share Group F with South Korea and Sweden. Mexico won’t play again until Saturday against South Korea at 10 a.m. on Fox.
The Mexican team wraps pool play against Sweden Wednesday, June 27, at 9 a.m., also on Fox.
Germany plays Sweden Saturday at 1 p.m. and South Korea June 27 at 9 a.m., coinciding with the Mexico-Sweden match.
Assuming my viewing of these games is not pre-empted by my home moving schedule, I expect to be watching.
It’s hard to think that Germany could lose again in pool play and be at risk of potentially not making the 16-team single-elimination bracket.
However, in 2016 most people would have told you it was hard to think that the U.S. would fail to make the tournament against one of the softest qualifying groups.
As they say, that’s why they play the games instead of deciding the winners on paper.
However it turns out, expect a fun ride from here to the finish.