Keeping track of the world’s game at USD

By Alex Bullock

Last week marked the end of the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League. The Champions League is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world and the most prestigious club competition in European soccer.

Among the teams moving on to the quarterfinals are European powers Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

Now, you may be asking why this is relevant to a USD student, and it’s a reasonable question. I mean, why should anyone care about a sports league six thousand miles away and involving a sport that, at most, is the fourth most popular sport in the country?

Well, as our study abroad office loves to point out, USD is ranked No. 1 nationally for the number of students who participate in the university’s study abroad program. One of the most rewarding aspects of studying abroad is the opportunity to experience and immerse yourself in another culture.

Sports are an influential part of any culture, and unlike in the US, soccer is the most popular sport in most countries around the world.

After playing soccer for years and being a fan my whole life, I knew about the impact of the game around the world. The summer before I started high school I traveled to Europe with my family during the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. We were in Rome when Italy won in the quarterfinals where we got to see the Italian capital overflow in celebration and pride.

Later, we watched the final between the Italy and France in London with some pilots from Air France. When the Italians reigned victorious after a penalty shootout, the pilots stormed out of the bar in frustration. I witnessed the passion of the fans, but never truly experienced it for myself.

That is, until I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain.

The small apartment I lived in with three other USD students and our Spanish host mother was full of Real Madrid memorabilia. I drank my morning coffee out of a mug with the team’s crest painted on the side. I even ate my dinners with Real Madrid silverware.

I lived above a bar that, like every other bar in Madrid, had a television that showed all of Real Madrid’s matches. I remember how the street erupted with noise on a Tuesday night in September when Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo each scored a goal in the final five minutes of a match to defeat the English champions Manchester City 3-2.

Before the goals, the city felt deflated, like Manchester City had come in and sucked all of the air out of Madrid with their late 2-1 lead. But in the span of five minutes, the mood of the entire city changed. The feeling was electric, and I was living right in the middle of it.

I couldn’t help but jump on the Real Madrid bandwagon at that point. Since then, I haven’t looked back.

As much as I’d like to think it is, this feeling is not unique to Madrid. That game could’ve taken place in any European city. While I was abroad I was afforded the opportunity to travel all over Europe. I visited the each of the cities of the four teams I mentioned earlier, and scarves bearing their names and colors are now hanging on the walls of my bedroom.

USD has a unique relationship with the world and the world’s game. With 70 percent of students studying abroad at some point in their undergraduate careers, we forge relationships with cities and cultures all around the world.

It’s the reason why you see students wearing jerseys from all around the world during intramural soccer matches. The reason why Frank’s Lounge becomes a soccer fan’s heaven during afternoons with important matches being played on the other side of the world.

Soccer is the world’s game, and USD is a worldly kind of place.