Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Soccer Take

My nephew Ryan is one of them, and now my son Patrick is becoming one of them. My friend Al has been one for years now. It used to be that the only people who were really into it were little kids and their over protective mothers. Now, fully grown men and women sit for hours in bars watching it, and once, sometimes twice during the proceedings, erupt into a maddening roar when something actually happens. Yes, soccer has taken over the world. Wait, or is it futbol? I never can keep them straight.

Every four years there’s this huge international tournament called the World Cup. The very best players in the world come together from all of the professional leagues and play for their home countries, sort of like the Ryder Cup in golf only with much louder fans. I must admit that I have watched more soccer over the past couple of weeks than in the rest of my years combined. I say “watched” when what I really mean is “stare at the screen, mouth ajar, trying desperately to understand what all the fuss is about.”

First of all I must admit that the fans are awesome in soccer. They dress up, they scream, they sing, they cry, they riot, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch. Also, it must be said that the players are amazing athletes and in fantastic shape. There’s probably not an ounce of body fat on the entire roster of these teams. I’m told that the average player runs the equivalent of 6-7 miles each game. It seems like much more than that. Either way, C.C. Sabathia wouldn’t last five minutes out there!

I also love the accent of the Scottish guy who does the color commentary on the radio, (yes I have actually listened to some of the action in my car…what is happening to me???).

Truth be told, I might eventually warm to the sport if not for a couple of huge annoyances. First, there’s the flopping thing. Listen, every sport has players who act like they’ve been fouled to try to influence the refs into a call. Even Derek Jeter was not above lying when he pretended to be hit by a pitch that time when replays showed nothing. Basketball is full of floppers, none better than the best player in the world, Lebron James. But these soccer players are the Sir Lawrence Olivier of athletes. In real time you see two players get close to each other, then suddenly one of them will fall to the ground as if he’s been shot through the chest with a high powered rifle. You see him writhing on the ground in agony clutching what surely must be his severed limb. But then you watch the slow motion replay only to discover that the two players didn’t actually, uh…even make contact. This happens at least twenty times per game. Listen, I get the whole gamesmanship thing, but come on soccer player…grow a pair.

The second thing that turns me off about soccer isn’t really soccer’s fault. It’s the fault of the sports media. They are constantly hectoring me about why I’m not a bigger fan. We Americans are considered hopelessly provincial for not being in love with the “world’s game.” Don’t we know that more people watch soccer, play soccer, and adore soccer than any other game? Hey, sports media guy, let me answer that question for you. As a matter of fact we are aware that soccer is the most popular game in the world, we just don’t care! Generally speaking, we Americans prefer games that allow players to use their God-given opposable thumbs. We also like scoring, and lots of it. From the looks of it, the best soccer players in the world do most of their scoring off the field.

Far be it from me to actually critique the physics of the game, but it appears to this untrained eye that the scoring problem is a function of the fact that the field is too big. Trim that baby down to the size of an America football field and eliminate a couple of players per side and presto…more scoring.

So, God bless soccer, futbol, and the World Cup. One of these days I’m going to sit down and watch an entire game from beginning to end. It’s on my bucket list.