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How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love the Beautiful Game

A story of how I learned to love soccer and Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund v Borussia Moenchengladbach - Bundesliga Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images

Hello community! My name is Nick Kapatos and I’m a new writer at Fear The Wall. A little professional background information about myself before I dive into my personal history of growing to love soccer and Borussia Dortmund. I’ve worked for three years as a sports information assistant/graduate Assistant at Florida Southern College and Grand Valley State University, two of the top Division II schools in their regions, writing about a variety of sports.

Now that that’s out of the way, onto my personal history of growth and love of jogo bonito and the yellow & blacks.

Like many kids in the United States, I began playing youth soccer when I was six years old in Levittown, New York. There wasn’t much I learned from that experience other than a) I’m not a goalie, and b) there’s a lot of rules to this game that people weren’t telling me. So, rather than continuing to try, I just stopped playing. Years went by and, like most Americans at the time, you couldn’t pay me to watch soccer.

Growing up in the Long Island suburbs throughout the 90s, soccer was never that big a deal compared to football, baseball, or lacrosse. It also didn’t help that, unlike the TV deals the Premier League and Bundesliga have today, it was practically impossible to find a soccer game on the tube that were on ESPN. Couple that with a time in America where it wasn’t “cool” to like soccer or any sport other than the Big Four, and how confusing some of the rules were (why can’t the goalie just pick up the ball and throw it into the other team’s net? Why are they only allowed three subs? What is offside?), and you have yourself a dark time for American soccer viewing.

I can’t for the life of me remember anything about the 1994 or 1998 World Cups, I can only remember the highlights of the 2002 World Cup on SportsCenter, and the only things I recall from the 2006 World Cup were the US getting embarrassed with Bruce Arena at the helm (timeisaflatcircle.gif) and Zinedine Zidane putting his skull through the chest of an Italian player in the Final.

I’d say the beginning of my love of soccer truly took place in June 2010, when the USA took the field in South Africa against England, Slovenia, and Algeria. I watched as Clint Dempsey scored on the worst howler by a goalkeeper I’ve ever seen to draw England. Then against Slovenia, Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley brought the USA back before getting screwed on the game-winner getting waved off on a call that seven years later I still can’t understand. Finally, that beautiful, beautiful sequence of events from Tim Howard’s save and pass, to Donovan’s run, to Dempsey’s blocked shot, to Donovan’s amazing game and group-winning goal against Algeria.

That was some of the most fun I’d had watching soccer, or any sport, in a long time. Not since the 2007 Super Bowl run by the New York Giants had I experienced something that let me experience every emotion possible.

Then, that next year, soccer extended its clutches into me ever further with the USA’s run in the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany. Mostly because of Abby Wambach’s header in the last seconds of extra-time against Brazil to send it to penalties. Furthermore, the US made it to the finals against Japan, a nation that only months prior had suffered a terrible nuclear accident that devastated the area. It was one of those cliché where people wouldn’t believe it if it were in a movie, but there we were.

Sure the men would eventually lose to Ghana and the women to Japan in their respective World Cups, but I was now drawn to soccer like a moth to light. Or rather, international soccer at least. I’d watch an international friendly on ESPN here, the UEFA Euros there, but there was still a lot I didn’t know. World Cup Qualifying? Gold Cup? Dos a Cero? Plus, for the life of me, I just couldn’t get into club soccer; there wasn’t a single MLS team with which I could identify, and it was still inconvenient to watch European soccer matches in the US without paying out the nose to do so.

Then Brazil 2014 rolled around, and the USA’s performance in what was labeled the Group of Death (although you can argue Group G and B have as much right to that label) coupled with Tim Howard standing on his head against Belgium, and I was officially hooked. The beauty of soccer, both in thrilling victory, agonizing draws, and soul crushing defeats, just reaffirmed everything I loved about the sport.

Not only that, but I was around drinking age when the Brazil World Cup rolled around, so being able to go to bars for these massive watch parties for every agonizing and exciting minute was something I’ll never forget for as long as I live. John Brooks’ game-winner against Ghana, the disappointing draw against Portugal, the feeling of “meh” after losing against Germany, and the heartbreak against Belgium; sharing these moments with hundreds of random people in bars across Raleigh, North Carolina was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now that I was fully in love with soccer, the obvious next step was to pick a club. Once again, the problem of no connection to any particular club arose. So, being the smart individual I am, I decided instead to simply follow the clubs the members of the USMNT were on. Everton? Sure. Seattle Sounders? Seems like fun. Bayern Munich? Sorry guys, but Julian Green was the next big thing for American soccer.

Buying the FIFA video games was the next step, and that helped me to understand all the leagues, clubs, players and, most importantly, how to play and watch the game of soccer. But no matter how hard I tried, I still couldn’t connect with a club. Rooting for my Giants, Mets, and Rangers was easy because I’m from the New York area and I have my father to thank for instilling that passion in me. I had no one to explain to me why I should be rooting for a soccer club. In some cases, people were telling me the opposite, to forget about soccer and just stick with rooting for “American” sports.

Was I a bad soccer fan? Was I selfish in that I only cared for one nationality when choosing a game to watch? Was it bad that I couldn’t find a real connection of any kind with any team, be it player, manager, or fan base? Was it bad that I was, and still am, surrounded by hardcore soccer haters?

Suddenly, there was a promising American teenager named Christian Pulisic in the youth system of top German club Borussia Dortmund. Thanks to the marvels of the Internet, I was able to follow along with this young American’s trials in Germany and his journey to make the first team. And by extension, I was able to follow along –albeit very loosely– with this fun-looking German club and their excitable manager, Jurgen Klopp. The sounds coming from the fans of this stadium couldn’t have sounded more in contrast with the crowds in England or the United States.

Little by little I started becoming more and more interested in Borussia Dortmund. Jurgen Klopp was replaced by a not-as-exciting manager, Thomas Tuchel, but the team was still very fun to watch with their gengenpressing, high-octane style of play. And sure enough, little Christian Pulisic actually started getting minutes! And the more I watched the team, the more I grew to appreciate the rest of the team. That Aubamayeng guy is really, really good. That Sokratis player has an amazing last name and is a tough defender. Kagawa is really good with the ball at his feet, and Reus is really fun to watch. I think it was the second game against Benfica in the Champions League last year that cemented my serious fandom of Borussia Dortmund.

Man, even with the dip in form this October, has it been fun this year to be fully on-board the Dortmund train. The Dembélé saga? Welcome to the world of international transfer drama. The Yarmolenko signing? How does he fit into the team and what does it mean for Pulisic’s playing time? Playing a 19-year-old centerback at left back? He’s actually not bad considering it’s his first time playing in a senior team. Roman Burki’s struggles? Meh, he’s in the middle of a dry spell. Happens to everyone. That amazing start at the beginning of the season? Holy crap, is it going to be like this every game?

I’m forming opinions on starting XI’s, tactics, and play analysis that people actually agree with on the Borussia Dortmund subreddit. This has given me more confidence in my growing knowledge of the sport, which is something I don’t have with the Rangers or the Mets.

I’m buying and seriously reading books on soccer, I’m growing my collection of Dortmund apparel, I’m subscribed to more soccer podcasts than anything else, I’m actually trying to learn German, and I’m making attempts to save towards a trip to Dortmund in the near future to visit the city to watch a game in the Westfalenstadion. Those are things I’d never have considered doing, even five years ago, but here we are.

Right now, the teams I’m a fan of in American sports are garbage. The Giants are a train wreck, the USMNT failed to qualify to Russia in the most gut-wrenching way possible, the Mets are the Mets, and who knows how the Rangers’ lack of centers will bite them in the ass this year. So, Dortmund is really my final refuge as a sports fan. A team I only started to connect with because of one player is now something I’ve been obsessed with since the beginning of September, to the point that I’m getting those weird looks from my girlfriend now and then.

So thanks to one magical goal by Landon Donovan and the spectacular rise of Christian Pulisic, I’m 100% in on soccer and Borussia Dortmund. I still have some questions on soccer in general and as a Dortmund fan, such as what do the numbers mean regarding player position? Why does everyone hate RB Leipzig? How will VAR and goal line technology affect the game as a whole?) Nevertheless, I’m willing to learn and expand my knowledge to become a better fan of Borussia Dortmund.