Rooting for a team isn't about sports—it's actually about relationship-building.
It's been more than 15 years since Alex Paz moved to the U.S. But since then, if he could help it, Paz—who was born in a small town in Galicia, Spain—has never missed any of the Spanish national team's soccer games. Be it an international friendly against Venezuela or the World Cup Final against The Netherlands, Paz has been there, albeit at a distance, cheering his home team
"It's about a national identity," said Paz, speaking to me on Saturday at Smithfield, a new soccer bar in midtown Manhattan. "I feel even more Spanish when I'm watching soccer."
Paz, 43, a New Jersey resident, made the trip across the Hudson to Smithfield with a couple of Spanish friends to watch his team play France in the quarterfinals of the Euro Cup. For those 90 minutes, Paz could have easily felt like he was back in Spain. There was red everywhere. There were girls with the colors of the national flag painted on their faces. And there was an intrinsic bonhomie that gave the occasion a special edge.
"Here in New York, you walk the streets, and you see people with Spanish shirts on. It just feels terrific," said Paz. "There is no greater bond than sport, particularly soccer." In the past, the Spanish national team has been known for its lack of unity. But in 2008 when it won the European championship in Austria and Switzerland, Spain, perhaps, felt one of its earliest senses of a strong national accord. "There are now three Basque players in the national team," said Paz, "They play at their best when they put on the Spain shirt. It brings the different regions of the country together, and I just feel really privileged watching the team."