Honestly, soccer was never on my list of favorite sports growing up. Never. I even performed what seems to be an obligation for American youth to play the game anywhere from six to 10-years-old.
I remained a hater.
Soccer to me meant 0-0 snorefests, too much passing, and rioting fans. Actually, that last one was pretty cool. The game didn't seem to require much skill and the players always seemed way too emotional. American football and baseball had spoiled me.
Then a funny thing happened: Major League Soccer put a team in my home state of Utah.
For a guy who probably could not have named three teams in MLS, suddenly checking out where Real Salt Lake was in the standings was a major step for me.
Then an even stranger thing happened this year: I suddenly decided that I wanted to follow Chelsea and the Premier League.
For the first time, I watched soccer/football and began to appreciate what a great game it was. The abilities of the players immediately jumped out at me and that emotion that I scoffed at earlier showed the passion these guys have.
My experiences with Chelsea led to me becoming a passionate Real Salt Lake follower. I began learning the bigger names in MLS: Donovan, Keller, Ljungberg, Rosario, and the like.
So when I found out the MLS All-star Game was being played thirty minutes from my house, I jumped at the opportunity to get tickets.
Trust me, it was no snorefest.
The game was a big learning experience for me. Soccer in person is very different from soccer on television. Television tends to highlight offense and scoring. For the first time, I saw the technical skill required in defense and the value of positioning on both sides. Those 0-0 ties that Americans hate, come about because both defenses are good.
Goalkeeping was another skill I had unappreciated. Tim Howard and Kasey Keller put on a clinic yesterday. My seat was right behind the north goal and I can say that the brilliance of Howard is unbelievable.
Everton would surely have lost with anyone else back there. If you haven't seen the highlights from the game, go check out Howard's saves, especially from the shootout at the end.
Another lesson I learned: Soccer is rough. Getting good positioning means fighting off one or two players. The spills the players take are pretty good too. Freddie Ljungberg went to the hospital after the game with a migraine. That news didn't mean much until I remembered that he had basically had the crap beat out of him for ninety minutes.
I really wish I could adequately describe what an amazing experience the All-Star Game was, but this will have to do. The atmosphere was thick with intensity and I was riveted for the whole match. My appreciation for soccer grew in leaps and bounds.
So all you haters out there, take a little advice from me: There's a reason the world is ahead of you in appreciating true sporting talent.