The older generation has discovered soccer -- or at least my folks have
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. -- "Is there any soccer on TV?"
This was my dad talking on Tuesday. Every year my family spends the Fourth of July week in a rental house on Puget Sound. And every year I realize, more and more, that my retired parents have fallen -- hard -- for soccer.
David Wahl is 74. Helen Wahl is 81. Ten years ago they almost never watched soccer. And now they watch more than I do.
Like many good parents, their interest started when their son got involved in the sport. But now their fútbol fever is out of control. During most of the year they watch 10 or more games a week. Premier League, Champions League, MLS, world tournaments, the U.S. men's and women's national teams: With up to 70 live soccer games on U.S. television every week, there's plenty for them to see.
And so they have opinions. Lots of them.
My mom has become a Manchester United fan. "Their games are always exciting to me," she says. "They play so well together, and there's nothing mundane about it. It's fun to watch." She likes United's Javier Hernández in part because he's attractive -- she likes former United players Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Forlán for the same reason -- and another favorite is Robin van Persie.
She's more of a mixed bag on Wayne Rooney. "I like Rooney as a player, but not so much as a person," she says. "He didn't even play those last games because he wants to be traded!"
My dad, meanwhile, is a Tottenham Hotspur fan. "I like Clint Dempsey," he says. "Gareth Bale too, and Jermain Defoe. A close second is Everton. Tim Howard is one of the best goalies in the Premier League."
"I love Timmy," says my mom, a bit too dreamy-eyed.
In some ways my parents are a symbol (albeit an exaggerated one) of America's growing interest in watching pro soccer. They're big into other TV sports -- baseball, golf and college basketball, in particular -- but soccer has several things going for it. For starters, the games only last two hours, in contrast to the four-hour-long baseball marathons you see these days. The action in soccer is constant, with almost no commercial breaks, and the personalities and storylines are engaging, especially in the Premier League.
Plus the sport never really stops. When the long club season ends, you go right into national team games in World Cup qualifiers and tournaments like the recent Confederations Cup. My dad keeps asking me this week about Landon Donovan's return to the U.S. national team and what I think of Brazil's Neymar, whom he finally saw play for the first time during the Confederations Cup.
What's more, games that take place in Europe are on at a perfect time for retired couples in Arizona (like my parents). "I look forward to weekends," my mom says. "On Saturday and Sundays, we're going to watch soccer. It comes on at such a good time for us old people. 7 in the morning is perfect for us."
There's still more for them to discover, not least because the soccer world is so big. They're expecting to watch more of the rising German Bundesliga this next season, for example. "It was an eye-opener for me to see Bayern Munich and Dortmund make it to the Champions League final," my dad says. "I was so used to looking at the Premier League, I thought the best quality was there. And it is quality, but I hadn't watched the Bundesliga or the Spanish league."
Not that their interest is limited to men's soccer. They watch every game of the U.S. women's national team, which might be their single favorite soccer team. Somehow my mom got onto the topic of U.S. star Megan Rapinoe modeling her look on the actress Tilda Swinton the other night.
"But I think she's much better looking than Tilda Swinton," my mom finally said. In fairness to my mom, she does care about more than just athletes' looks. But the fact is that popular interest in a sport isn't just about hardcore tactics and coaching moves. As the Premier League has shown, the soap opera is part of the sales pitch.
"I couldn't believe it when Luis Suárez bit that guy," my dad says, "but he's such a good offensive player you can't help but watch him."
And so it goes. My parents are itching for the European club season to start again in August, but we've spent this week watching games from the Under-20 World Cup, and they'll undoubtedly be watching the Seattle-D.C. MLS game on Wednesday night.
Like I said: They're out of control. And it's glorious.