Roar like a lion. Dream bigger than the ocean. Why we need World Cup soccer in Colorado.

The big lion roared and changed the life of a 9-year-old boy forever.

Dom Badji never would have watched a sunset over the Rocky Mountains, never stepped on a soccer pitch for the Rapids and never shared laughter with me if not for a single goal scored 16 years ago.

“It changed everything for me,” said Badji as we stood outside the Rapids’ dressing room, more than 5,000 miles and an ocean away from Dakar, the city where he was born on the west coast of Africa.

Such is the power of the World Cup, the biggest sporting event on the planet.

May 31, 2002, forever altered the path taken by a skinny kid named Dom. Senegal, making its first appearance at the World Cup, was playing Thierry Henry and defending world champion France at a stadium in Seoul, South Korea.

And Badji as watching on television from his sofa from Africa, cheering the underdog national team of his homeland, fondly nicknamed the Lions of Teranga. In the 29th minute of a scoreless match, huge midfielder “Papa” Bouba Diop came charging upfield, lunged at a loose ball in the box, saw it deflect of the hands of the French goalie and poked a shot in the net for the most beautiful ugly score anyone from Senegal has ever seen.

“I was running down the hallway, screaming,” said Badji, recalling a joy so loud he had it let it out.

The 2018 World Cup begins today in Russia. Senegal is back in the 32-team field for the first time in 16 years, and Badji will watch every game wrapped in his national flag, which will feel as a warm a hug from home.

The 2026 World Cup is coming to North America, quite possibly with Denver as a host city for as many as six games.

No sporting event in the world reveals so much of the world’s heart as the World Cup (sorry, Olympics).  So I asked five members of the Rapids, from every corner of the globe, to speak on how the World Cup has shaped them.

Ask Badji the player to watch in Russia and he doesn’t name Lionel Messi or Neymar but goes full, unabashed homer and picks Sadio Mane. Asked which team will win the tournament, and Badji shouts “Senegal all the way!”

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