Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka makes his living kicking a football, but that doesn't mean soccer isn't still near and dear to his heart. Hauschka grew up playing the beautiful game, and he really only took to kicking a football when he realized soccer wasn't going to work out for him at Middlebury College.
Hauschka considers himself a big Sounders and U.S. National Team fan, he attended the World Cup in Brazil last year, and like millions of other Americans he was screaming for joy last weekend when the U.S. National Team dominated Japan in the Women's World Cup final.
So with Manchester United and Club America coming to town next week for a July 17 friendly at CenturyLink Field, we caught up with Hauschka to talk about that game, which is part of the 2015 International Champions Cup, about the growth of soccer in the U.S. and about how kicking a soccer ball around helps him succeed in the NFL.
How did you first get into soccer?
Hauschka: "I started I think when I was three years old, maybe earlier. It was the first sport I played and my favorite sport until I started playing football, and I still do love the game a lot."
It's not unusual to see you kicking a soccer ball after practice, what's the reason for that?
Hauschka: "It's to help my kicking. I started that last season. I started it for two reasons—one, I kick a few balls lefty just to keep my body balanced because I have so many right-footed kicks that twist my body in one direction. So it's good to get out there and kick the soccer ball lefty just to untwist my body and put some reps on the other side so I'm not so one-sided. The other reason is I do a little footwork and agility with it; do some passes, some juggling and stuff like that. I think that helps with the coordination of my feet—it's like foot-eye coordination. It doesn't take very long, and it does help."
What about soccer appeals to you as a fan?
Hauschka: "For one, I'm like the biggest U.S. National Team fan. I love seeing them compete against the best players and the best countries in the world. I'm just passionate about it.
"It's so simple, you're just chasing after a ball and trying to get it into the net, so it's very simple to understand. You can play it at a young age; it's a great sport for kids. When you're playing soccer, you're not thinking Xs and Os, you're just kind of into the game. And there's a lot of fluidity to the game that you don't see in other sports. Some Americans don't understand the passing and things like that and think it's boring at times, but it's hard to get the ball in the net, so when that happens it's a very exciting moment. There's a big buildup for the goals, and when they finally come it's really exciting for fans.
"I don't think most fans realize how skillful the game is and how much skill it takes to pass the ball and do some of the things that these guys do. It's amazing to watch in person when you get a chance to do so.
"And anybody can play. The entire world plays the game. I'm not sure there's another sport where the entire world plays it and tries to be competitive in the sport, so it really is the world's biggest sport. And some of the best players in the world are mid-five-foot and they aren't necessarily physically intimidating people, so the fact that anybody in the world can compete at it, I think that's really cool."
Do you have any rooting interest in Manchester United vs. Club America?
Hauschka: "I root for the Sounders and the U.S. National Team, but otherwise I just like watching the good European club teams play. They put some of the best soccer performance in the world out there. I'm looking forward to seeing that game. I'll actually be at a wedding that night, but I'll DVR it and watch it."
What players will you be watching?
Hauschka: "Obviously Wayne Rooney, I've been paying attention to him for years. He came onto the scene when he was pretty young, so he's been around for a long time. Man U is back in the Champions League this year too, so it'll be fun to get to see next year's team play before they get going."
What does it mean to bring two of the most recognizable teams in the world to CenturyLink Field?
Hauschka: "It's just a chance for more exposure. The city of Seattle is really a big diehard soccer city. I don't know why exactly, but they've really embraced the game. It's almost like a European team the way they follow the Sounders. The more events there are like this, the more it puts Seattle on the map as a soccer destination. Who knows, maybe we'll get a World Cup game in Seattle eventually when that comes to the U.S. again."
What are your thoughts about the growth of soccer in the United States, especially in recent years?
Hauschka: "It's awesome to watch. What the women just did, what the men's team did last year in the World Cup, seeing young players come up through ranks who are more and more talented, watching the U.S. team beat the Netherlands and Germany in friendly play, it makes me proud. I think eventually we'll be able to use all our resources and put together one of the best teams in the world. We're not there yet, it takes time, but it's fun to watch it progress over time."
What did you think of Sunday's Women's World Cup final?
Hauschka: "That was awesome. It was really exciting, especially the start to the game, that was crazy, and overall the game was really well played."