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Soccer, Save Us

An elegy to the transformative and uplifting nature of the beautiful game. Thank God MLS soccer is back.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

About two years ago, my daily drive to work, a calm 45 minutes of listening to NPR, sipping coffee and generally not being responsible for anything but red lights and left turns, started to suck. This was around the time that NPR's news cycle consisted of a congressional shutdown, Ebola ravaging Africa, and ISIS and Boko Haram committing atrocities that ranged from taking women as sex slaves to the committing of systematic genocide of the minority Yazidi people. I know, depressing.

I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't spend 9 hours getting stressed out at work (I like my work, but it ain't easy), bookended with 45 minutes of listening to what a train-wreck the world was. I was becoming more anxious and more sad than I wanted to be. As a clergyperson and a high school teacher, I already spend plenty of time thinking and reading about the problems of the world, and thinking deeply of the moral challenges that humans confront daily. But at some point, too much is too much. So off went NPR. The New York Times would no longer get the cover-to-cover treatment. I even took a fairly large detox from Facebook - as most of my friends like to either er-post the latest news or argue over it. A full news withdrawal was necessary.

The news, coupled with a new job as a rabbi in Steamboat Springs a few times a year, meant that I now had up to a 6 hour round-trip drive with nothing really to listen to. Music's alright in doses, but I need information over a six hour drive. My solution was a pair of soccer podcasts- ‘March to the Match', an MLS based pod hosted by a high school buddy, Jonah Freedman, and MLS guys Matt Doyle and Matt Tomaszewicz; and the more well-known ‘Men in Blazers', a goofy pod with two Brits making silly jokes about Arsene Wenger's continual search for a jacket with pockets, being bald, and pies. Also Barclay's English Premier League football.

It was a successful auditory migration. I became happier. I worried less. I was less stressed out. I learned more about football. I got addicted and read more and listened to more soccer podcasts (I'm up to eight, regularly). Sure, I still read the paper and paid attention to the news, but I really was able to keep it reasonable and relatively non-toxic, while staying well-informed.

The current 2016 election cycle is bringing back my old frustrations, though. Since the MLS season ended, we Americans have been subjected to an election campaign based primarily in fear, and demagoguery, and charlatanism and dishonesty. We have candidates that play on fears of the Other; particularly people of specific religious or ethnic backgrounds. We have candidates that think the road to being president must be won by proving to be nastier, meaner, more ruthless and more cruel than their competitors. Much of the campaign has involved pandering to the lowest common denominator, our basest fears, and the misperceived own self-interests of a dissatisfied unhappy mass of the population. Some of the politicians have resorted regularly to lying outright. Or complaining that our country has been ruined and is beyond it's glory days. I could provide links for everything in this paragraph, but honestly, I don't have the stomach to re-read most of that crap again.

In short, I need an outlet and alternative, and I need it right now. Super Tuesday only reinforced that further. I can't spend the next seven months going back to NPR and the NY Times. It'll depress me, or terrify me, or make me sad about my fellow Americans and their wrongheaded and sometimes immoral prognosis for my country which involves expelling people and turning people away . People that simply want to live in a place where prosperity and freedom are not just ideals but actual things that we live, day-to-day. This was the country that took in my great grandparents as refugees from terror in a far away land. This was the country that welcomed my immigrant grandmother after her entire town was mowed down with bullets and thrown into a pit in a Polish forest. This was my America. The America we hear about in the news each day is not my America. And to be constantly reminded of that fact by people who want to president? I can't even deal. I can't function day to day like this.

I need MLS back, and I need it now. I need carefree spring afternoons watching twenty two men try to put a sphere in a net. I need to be part of 18,000 people whose greatest worry on a given Saturday evening is whether our midfield can string together 8 passes. I need a cold beer on a warm night and a silly cheer. I need to see people of all creeds and backgrounds playing together for the common goal of scoring more goals than the other guy. I want golazos and comebacks and highlights and heroics and letdowns and tifos. I want to sing that ‘Coloraaaaaahdos wonderfuuuuuul... oh Colorado's woooondeeerfuuuuul...' . I want to see Gashi light it up and Tim Howard be the secretary of defense and to wonder how it is that Dillon Powers can put a free kick anywhere he wants. I want to wear my burgundy kit, even though as a middle aged balding man who can't keepy uppy more than 6 times in row and has a small paunch, an MLS kit is not my best look.

Maybe soccer's just a silly distraction. It's a game we probably take too seriously. But it's important to have these outlets, because life isn't livable if you're just focused on the horror and the negativity all day long. Soccer is fun. It's uplifting. It's full of human stories of overcoming adversity and becoming successful through teamwork and dedication. It welcomes all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. It's very American that way.

I need soccer to come back and save me. I need soccer to come back and save us.

March 6th cannot come soon enough. And now you have some idea of how unbelievably glad I am for that.