Banging a ball against the wooden rail ties in my tiny backyard to de-stress after 12 hours in the house with my digital home-schooled children, I long for a simple afternoon on the soggy and cratered grass pitch at Schenley Oval, watching my son in his orange kit play a square ball three feet past its intended target and rolling my eyes as he turns it over at midfield.
Reading a New York Times article about terrified families in Bergamo, Italy, weeping as they dispatched their relatives to the hospital from two meters away; saying goodbye without a hug or even a squeeze of the hand, wondering if they’ll ever see their father again, knowing that their grandmother may go onto a ventilator and never come off it; I cannot fathom how soccer would make any sense right now.
This is where I am right now. Hopelessly pinging between two contradictory desires.
On the one hand, there are the desperate needs for the distraction of my favorite things, like Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Netflix crime dramas, and watching a wide midfielder dribble his man and blister a ball onto the goalkeeper’s outstretched punch.
On the other hand, there is a crushing sense that simple pleasures are meaningless distractions from a crisis so earth-shattering that it is re-orienting the daily life of every human on the planet.
I miss soccer so very much right now. And also, I do not care at all about soccer in the slightest at this moment.
This cataclysmic pandemic will likely kill millions of people before it is all over. It has already rendered millions unemployed. Folks are worried about the rent, or how to pay their medical bills if they get sick, or if they can even attend the funeral of a loved one during quarantine. For me, all of that renders the game of soccer so incredibly moot that the very idea of taking any interest in twenty-two men chasing a synthetic leather ball around a field has become absurd to me. Who honestly cares about football when so many are fearful; so many are suffering?
This site’s editor, John Krysinsky, manages hospital volunteers for a living. All of his volunteers have been sent home until further notice, as it’s better to avoid transmitting the coronavirus. He’s still reporting to work, taking on numerous tasks that volunteers were previously doing. My wife is a physical therapist, and still goes into work to treat folks the way she did before the outbreak. Short-staffed, her health care company has asked her and her colleagues if they’d be willing to come into the local hospital and sanitize the facilities for minimum wage. Since she’s out in the world interacting with folks every day, we assume that our whole family is a vector for the virus. We’re like every other conscientious and anxious American family in quarantine – bored, a little scared, constantly wondering whether our mild headaches are the result of too much mezcal last night or the earliest signs of Covid-19.
My friend the MLS color commentator is out-of-work, without pay. My favorite pundit, Andrew Wiebe, caught the virus. Another friend is a waiter and has no job and no income. And, as scary as that all is, it pales in comparison to the doctors and nurses and EMTs that are working with little rest and a shortage of personal protective equipment, scared to be unintentionally spreading the coronavirus to others, and scared even more to be contracting the virus themselves.
It’ll be nice to get back to normal. To roll into Highmark at 5 pm and check in with Maria Petrillo, Josh Brokaw, Yik Yak, Shoez and Jesse at the tailgate – and maybe do the unprofessional thing and drink a beer or two before I cover the match. Then alight to the broadcast booth and give Matt Gajtka a chuck on the shoulder before he gets set up to do the play by play. Wander through the press box to try and get one of the four good chairs before they’re taken. Say hi to Hounds media director Tony Picardi and his two interns, whose names I constantly forget (usually there’s a Ryan?) Then try and get down the starting lineup and an opening line before the whistle and watch ninety minutes of frenetic, methodical, possibly ecstatic, but definitely eminently satisfying soccer.
I can’t wait for this to get back to normal. I’m super tired of staring at the walls of my house for yet another day of social distancing. I miss soccer deeply. But until the danger passes, and until the curve is flattened and the hospitals are back to running at capacity instead of braced for disaster, and until the bigger issues of life and death have been dealt with, I cannot possibly care about soccer.
But I cannot wait for the day when I can again.