Heard on the Hill

Bend it like Bacon

Members face off in the 7th annual soccer match

Democrats have owned the pitch in recent years, but Don Bacon has been practicing hard.(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

I’m no soccer expert (believe it or not), but I know enough to know that when someone in the United States gets excited about “football,” it’s rarely over a little leather black-and-white ball getting kicked around.

So when I saw the announcement for this year’s Congressional Soccer Match, I felt bad. Bad because I had forgotten there was a congressional “soccer” game — which, by the way, has its very own Wikipedia page.

I had a lot of questions, so I reached out to an individual familiar with the matter.

Image from iOS

As you can see, David is probably taking time to talk to his people and polish up some points before getting back to me. Or he’s busy doing something the rest of us are not — caring about soccer.

Since I’m not the kind of person who waits around for answers (on a deadline), I moved forward on my quest and spoke with another soccer enthusiast who, I imagine, gets mistaken for Beckham all the time once the cleats are laced up: Rep. Don Bacon.

“I played a little soccer in college … I was not good,” he told me.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 26: Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., arrives for the House Republican Conference meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Don Bacon. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The modest member used to play right-forward, but switched to defense now that he is, in his words, “a little slower.” He also co-chairs the Congressional Soccer Caucus, which pushed a resolution through the House back in 2018 supporting North America’s bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup across the United States, Mexico and Canada.

I asked him why the United States isn’t as into soccer as the rest of the world.

“We just don’t have quite that culture,” he said of the Europeans, South Americans and Central Americans who start out playing the sport at a young age. “Our kids are born in baseball.” But while the U.S. is catching up with the global hype surrounding men’s soccer, he’s very pleased with its counterpart in the U.S.

Hamming it Up in Don Bacon’s Nebraska Nook

“Well the good thing is our women’s soccer, I think, is the best in the world. At the women level we are ahead than most countries out there because we’ve embraced Title IX sports,” he said.

Two women made the congressional rosters for Tuesday’s match: Democrats Kathy Castor, who played last year, and Mary Gay Scanlon, who broke her ankle three weeks ago while emailing her way down the Capitol steps. No word on Scanlon’s sideline plans.

As for Bacon’s own strategy on the field, it’s simple: “I’ve been asking my wife to kick a ball at me as hard as she can … and she likes doing it.”

The Nebraskan is hoping all that practice will pay off Tuesday night. As Republicans and Democrats face off on the pitch, they’ll be joined by actual professionals like Luciano Emilio, Carin Gabarra and Jim Gabarra.

The sting of defeat is still fresh in Bacon’s mind. The game hasn’t gone well for Republicans for the past few years.

If he could get a message into David Beckham, what would it be? Send help. “We need him on our side,” Bacon said.

Proceeds from the match support the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s programs for kids in underserved communities. The action starts at 6:30 p.m at Audi Field.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.