Two days ago, I was waiting at Boston Logan to board a flight to Charles de Gaulle. Four years ago around this time, I was probably in the same terminal, waiting for a flight to Winnipeg for a different World Cup. It feels like hardly any time at all has passed since that month in Canada, where I lived a mildly fratty life out of a Vancouver Airbnb with a pack of WoSo fans.
I wore the soles off of my shoes that summer, wandering down to the waterfront to linger around the Fox studio setup, going to bars to watch games and use the free WiFi, getting nutmegged during pickup in the park. I met good friends, developed a crush that never went anywhere, and saw a national team player in the wild and froze in my car seat like that scene in Jurassic Park when Dr. Alan Grant tells the kids that a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s visual acuity is based on movement. It was nonstop soccer, in every word I spoke, every meal I ate, in the air itself every time we thronged BC Place Stadium.
Flash forward, I’ve been spending the last few months planning a trans-Atlantic trip, checking in with editors, crying to US Soccer and FIFA for logistical help, frantically brushing up on my school French, and planning a month’s worth of content among myself and the intrepid writers at All for XI and Stars and Stripes FC. Four years ago, I was writing United States match recaps from the stands and spending more days off than working; now I’m calling into US Soccer press corps briefings and picking up media accreditation. I honestly don’t feel adult enough for this, even though I’ve been more or less steadily working in sports writing for five years now.
(The “less” aspect involved part-time shifts at a local ramen shop, where I definitely got to eat free ramen every day, but also never stopped smelling like garlic and pork, although some might consider that an upside.)
I’m responsible for things now: for good reporting on the game, for other writers, and for representing my employers well enough that FIFA doesn’t yank my credentials and whisper to the French authorities that someone needs to leave the country immédiatement, s’il vous plait.
Hours to go until the World Cup kicks off in Paris at Parc des Princes, it still doesn’t quite feel real. I have editors relying on me to write, and to not totally suck at it. I’m supposed to get around another country on my own, instead of being escorted around by a teacher, like on my high school trip to France, which featured markedly more education and much less sports and wine. In my own small corner of the internet, I’m hoping I will help push coverage forward for the next four years of women’s soccer. It’s a strange and exciting time, particularly for someone who stumbled sideways into the gig and kind of just kept going with it.
Four years ago, I remember posting up high in the upper bowl of BC Place, smoke from nearby wildfires drifting down into the open-air stadium, while my good friend, Gab, sat next to me with a GoPro strapped to her head and an increasingly confounded expression on her face as the United States racked up absurd goal after absurd goal against Japan. It was surreal, magical, sweaty, loud, intense, and overwhelming to the senses until you either gave yourself up to it or had to sneak away to be in a quiet spot for five minutes. It was an extraordinary time — to be matched, perhaps, only by the next World Cup.
I want to wear out the soles of my shoes again. I want to dodge French drivers while biking around Paris’ arrondissements. I want to eat too many pastries and drink good cheap wine and ask the locals what they think of the tournament. I want to meet up with old friends and meet new ones and talk about soccer until I’m sick of it and we have to talk about retirement plans to unwind.
I hope this tournament blows the last one out of the water, like a declaration of intent to 2015 and a challenge to 2023. The World Cup is an ephemeral colossus, looming large but gone before you can process the grind of group, the chaos of knockouts, the anxiety of the final. I hope I enjoy every second. I hope I don’t let anyone down. I hope I get home and my cat doesn’t hate me for leaving for a month. I hope I’m back in this terminal in four years, wondering how it could feel like barely a year has gone by since I got on a plane to France. I guess I’m ready, as much as you can be ready for a World Cup.
Shit, did I pack my rain jacket?