No matter what you call it — soccer, football or futbol — it’s the world’s number-one sport.
Need evidence? The 2019 Super Bowl took in $100 million viewers. In comparison, Europe’s biggest club competition, the UEFA Champions League Final, raked in $380 million in 2018.
While soccer may not be the go-to option for American, it’s the top choice and passion for Gavin Cole.
Cole made a name for himself as a youth on the hardwoods at Marmaton Valley High and Allen Community College. Today, Cole is the head basketball coach at MVHS. Despite being fully invested in basketball, soccer prevailed in Cole’s life as a youngster.
“I think I really always had an interest in the sport,” Cole said. “I remember when I was a kid, I had some cards from the 1994 World Cup. I would have been only four years old, so I don’t remember too much of it. We also used to play in my backyard, and I remember Cobi Jones was one of my favorite players. He had the cool hair and everything.”
Jones is the U.S. Men’s National all-time capped player with 164 appearances, and also was a star in Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy. Cole admits the Galaxy were number-one in his heart not only because of Jones’s impact, but also because of David Beckham.
Beckham arrived in LA after winning nearly every major trophy at Manchester United in England, and Real Madrid in Spain. His goal was to grow the game in the states, and for Cole, it seemed to have made an impact.
“I think that got eyeballs tuning in, and the interest in the country became that much larger,” Cole said. “For somebody like me, who is interested in the sport, and kind of just needed that last little push to follow domestically, that gave it to me.”
Cole’s affair with the Galaxy was short-lived. While in his third year of college, he made it a point to get more invested with his local MLS team, the Kansas City Wizards. When the team rebranded as Sporting Kansas City, and opened the new stadium, Cole was there.
“I watch almost all their games on Fox Sports Midwest, or on ESPN+ because they have all the games,” Cole said. “My son and I like to watch the games together, and we were supposed to go to a game on his birthday in April. Obviously now, that has been moved back and rescheduled.”
Cole’s love for the game doesn’t end with the east coast. His weekend mornings are filled with watching the game’s best in England’s Barclays Premier League, and Germany’s Bundesliga. While each league may play with its own style, and some fans deeming one way of play to be more attractive, Cole appreciates the game in its entirety.
“Even though I’m a basketball guy, I’ve always been a fan of x’s and o’s,” Cole said. “Growing up I always wanted to play strategy games, and with soccer, there are so many moving parts and so much going on. I love the tactical part of it, which is still something I am still learning.”
Cole agrees that some in the U.S. fail to understand soccer for its fine details.
“I don’t think people do, and I honestly didn’t when I started watching. It wasn’t until I started listening to podcasts and really started paying close attention that I got a good grasp of it.”
EA Sports’ annual FIFA video game title has also helped Cole get a better understanding of the ins and outs of soccer.
“I used to play quite a bit,” Cole said. “I don’t have as much time to play anymore.”
Still, Cole has found time to start a career with the little-known English side Scunthorpe United, which currently sits in the fourth tier of English soccer. Cole’s goal? To get his team to the top flight with a squad of U.S. players.
“Being the U.S. Men’s National team fan that I am, I’m a huge youth squad guy,” Cole said. “I will sign the four or five star scout, and he is going to the U.S for nine months at a time.”
Cole believes that soccer’s growing momentum may have taken a hit in 2014 when the U.S. men failed to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil that year. Nonetheless, Cole believes the Yanks are trending in the right direction.
“We are producing players with a higher ceiling than ever before,” I even follow stuff like the u20 World Cup, and our team was very successful, and even beat France. This was a French team that was all professionals playing a lot of minutes at their clubs, and we were able to do it without some of our better u20 players that couldn’t be released by their teams.”
Cole highlighted Ulysses Llanez Jr., an 18-year-old winger who plays in Germany for Wolfsburg. Llanez made his debut in the red, white, and blue in February against Costa Rica. Time will tell if this prospect grows to the potential Cole speaks highly of. But one thing will remain certain either way. Cole will continue to stay passionate about the game, no matter who is on the pitch.
*This is the first part in a series that explores the passion of Allen County residents for sports while we live in a world without them.