by Justin Brent | Faculty Advisor
In 1989 I was studying abroad in Europe, right when the Berlin Wall was beginning to crumble. A buddy of mine invited me to go to Berlin and witness what was happening.
“Nah,” I said. “I have an uncle I need to visit in Heidelberg.” And thus we parted ways–one to a routine family visit, the other to a geopolitical transformation.
That’s the trouble with great historical moments: They never seem so momentous at the moment; only in hindsight, as we look back at the lost opportunity and lament, “What was I thinking?”
Call me crazy, but I am ready to claim that we are in the midst of just such a change in American sports culture. A change where soccer is catching on, and catching on fast.
There are lots of boring ways to support my claim–youth soccer participation rates, MLS ticket sales and league growth, TV revenue from soccer matches, merchandise revenue. But, if you want to WITNESS the change, there’s no better way than watching PC Men’s soccer.
Now don’t get me wrong; I think the Women’s team allows you to see the same cultural shift. I’ll make an argument on their behalf in a few days–check back in with the Bluestocking.
As for the Men’s team, they are virtually unrecognizable from the one fielded two years ago, when they didn’t win a single regular-season match. One year later, the PC men finished the season in the Big South Tournament semifinals, losing only in a shootout. This year, they’re scoring goals against ranked teams like Furman, Duke and Davidson, and we’re beating — badly — opponents who beat us last year… like USC Upstate. That, ladies and gentlemen, is change!
In an attempt to understand this change, I requested an interview with head coach Jonathan Potter. I began the interview by asking what’s different from last season: “The overall mindset,” he replied. “Last year everything was new, but now we can build on last year’s foundation. The mentality going into each game has improved; we have a lot more possession and comfort in tight situations, and that has made [our players] hungrier.”
To those who’ve never played soccer, the concept of possession is a little foreign. But, retaining possession of the ball allows you to think as a team and dictate the style of play. It also elevates your confidence and emboldens you to try new and creative things. In the same way that a college education gives you options, possession in soccer gives you options.
There were other differences from last year that Potter shared: “More goals have given this team belief that we can weather the storms.” Belief may sound like a cliché, but only to those who’ve never experienced the toxicity of multiple shutouts. Every shutout adds yet another brick to the wall of despair. Conversely, every goal imbues a team with confidence to rebound. Coming from behind is no longer a remote possibility; it’s destiny.
But the team’s scoring and elevated belief only raise the question of what the root cause is. Here, Potter acknowledges the benefits of adding international players to the roster. Whereas in the past PC fielded almost exclusively American-born players, today all but two or three of his starting eleven are from overseas.
This trend of overseas players is common at lots of universities and leagues in the US, including Major League Soccer. The internationalizing of PC’s team is thus part of a much larger trend in American soccer. For Potter this is a positive: “The diversity is great! It shows everyone that we’re building something bigger than ourselves… and without question, [these players] have increased the professionalism of our game.”
But he’s also quick to maintain the importance of American players. “We all learn from each other, and American players have something to teach as well.”
My final question to Potter was why fans should bother to show up to Tuesday’s game against Georgia State. His answer was memorable: “You’re gonna see a team that believes and fights for each other. They’re resilient, and that’s what PC’s about. Georgia State’s no joke: they beat (#2 ranked) Wake Forest on the road, but in our stadium, our team can take anyone.”
Resilience is what PC’s about? Don’t know about you, but that’s a sentiment I can get behind!
I’ll say it once more: America is experiencing a soccer revolution, and you have a chance to see it in action Tuesday night at Martin Stadium. Don’t miss out on sports-culture history in the making. Don’t be the one who looks back on this moment wondering — as I still do about Berlin — “What was I thinking?”