I was 16 years old when I watched my first World Cup on TV. It was the 1982 tournament in Spain. I had already become addicted to the game of soccer and consumed it whenever and wherever I could.
The talent at that tournament was undeniable. The 1982 competition was the World Cup debut of Diego Maradona, a player who seemingly had the weight of the world on his shoulders as he looked to win Argentina a second consecutive World Cup trophy. Despite all the great names that littered the rosters of that tournament, for me, I will never forget the championship match between Italy and Germany. The passion that Italian midfielder Marco Tardelli showed when he scored the game-winning goal is something that will forever stay etched in my mind. It was right then that I knew playing in a World Cup was a goal that I would dedicate my life to achieve.
For me, the World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the planet. It’s bigger than the Olympics and bigger than the Super Bowl. Countries literally stop when their team is playing. There is no other event where you see the same level of nationalistic pride as you do every four years for the World Cup.
I was fortunate to represent the United States at the international level more than 60 times, including the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Every time I put the red, white and blue jersey on, it was a proud moment. The 1990 World Cup was extra special, however, because the United States had not qualified in 40 years. To be part of the group that ended that drought during qualification and carried the country’s banner into Italy that summer is something that is difficult to put into words.
Despite the fact that we did not advance out of our group at the tournament, I firmly believe that we laid the foundation for where soccer is today. It was a very important and monumental time and one that I’m extremely proud to have represented the United States.
When I sit down to watch this year’s tournament, I will marvel at the growth this sport has achieved in America. The United States now has a professional league that consistently provides a pool of players that can not only play in the United States at the World Cup, but also has the respect and admiration of their international peers. I look forward to seeing our own stars, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, test themselves against in the world’s best.
And as always, I look forward to watching countries such as Brazil and Spain and Argentina show why they are considered soccer nations. The technical ability of these players is as high as it has ever been and will keep even the casual sports fan glued to their television over the course of the next month.
Over two billion people will watch the World Cup. Hundreds of millions of kids will dream of one day playing in a World Cup. I was fortunate enough to realize my dream and I only hope that those kids who are watching the matches this summer will spark their passion for the game and will one day realize their dream of playing on the world’s biggest stage.
Peter Vermes, who played in the 1990 World Cup for the U.S. Men’s National Team, is the manager and technical director of Sporting Kansas City, the defending MLS champions