When asked what the most defining moment or turning point for US Soccer was, Tab Ramos, Marcelo Balboa and Claudio Reyna all pointed to the 1994 World Cup. They all agreed that it was the catalyst which led to the creation of Major League Soccer in the United States two years later. I, however, was in a small town in Oregon the summer of 1994 sadly unaware of this major global event that had descended upon the rest of the country. To me, soccer was a sport with half-time orange slices that I tried for a summer in 1983 through the YMCA. I found out quickly that I was born with two left feet which doesn’t bode well for a soccer career unless you are Arturo Alvarez.
In 1995, I left for France completely unaware of the tide that was changing back in the States to bring about the beginnings of Major League Soccer. During this time, I remember taking the bus to the Université and seeing the football stadium in Poitiers, hearing the supporters yelling and cheering; yet not fully understanding the depth of passion it takes to be a true football fan.
In 1997, I moved to Lyon and started working as an intern. I remember people all around me were excited about next year and the World Cup coming to France. The phone cards had the France ’98 emblem, the postage stamps were all France ’98, and everywhere you looked it was about the World Cup coming to France. My co-workers asked me how it felt hosting a World Cup and I would sadly admit that I didn’t know that the USA had hosted the World Cup; then and there they would shake their heads in pity and whisper something about “Les Américains”.
Finally 1998 rang in and all the football excitement was contagious even to the “ignorant Américaine”. I was already invited to the official party for the US Men’s National Team after the USA-Iran match that would take place on June 21st in Lyon. I was going to be meeting the US players in the city which I now called home and congratulate them for being in another World Cup. But alas, a great tragedy struck in February 1998 when my permanent work visa got denied by the French Government. In April, I had to be exiled back to the States and thus forced to miss this global event about which had every French and European citizen buzzing.
Although in Oregon, the month long World Cup became my link back to France, the country where I had planned to spend the rest of my life. The TV would show pictures and videos of Lyon and I was there again in my mind. It was that summer when Zidane, Barthez, Henry, Trezeguet, Lebœuf, Petit, Deschamps, Vieira and Thuram all won my heart. They played a sport that I had never truly seen. The foot work was amazing. It didn’t need to be a high scoring match (often the complaint of my father) to be a heart pounding experience to me. I remember being glued to ESPN in my parents’ home for every France match watching as miraculously they kept winning. Then the final came against Brazil, the match everyone said France would lose because France just doesn’t win World Cups, but still I believed in Mes Bleus.
It was Sunday July 18, 1998 and I woke up with hopes of history being made. Sure enough my beloved Zizou went and scored two goals while Petit finished off Brazil with another one to make the sweetest victory of 3 – 0. I was crying holding on to my French flag and knowing that this was the most beautiful sport that has ever existed. It is a sport that unites the world despite different languages, religions, cultures and beliefs. And in spite of being in a small town in Oregon where no one knew or cared that France had won the World Cup, I knew that there were many others in the world that had just witnessed a miracle in Stade Saint-Denis. But perhaps the truest miracle of that World Cup was that a girl in Oregon fell deeply and passionately in love with the most beautiful game in world.
Lisa Erickson is the newest member of the Center Line Soccer team. Please look for her on Twitter @lafemmeloca
(Photo: Joe Nuxoll, centerlinesoccer.com)