As I finally put my head down to rest last night I could not fall asleep. My blood pressure was still too high after watching the USA vs Ghana World Cup match. Not only that, I was also deeply disturbed. Like any soccer loving American I greatly enjoyed scrolling through my Twitter feed in the aftermath of USA's revenge against the Ghanians, the team that has eliminated the US from the previous TWO World Cups! As I read jingoistic tweet after jingoistic tweet I came across something very disturbing...
I read a tweet that went somewhere along the lines of: "Great win for the USA but I wish soccer wasn't so boring!" (btw, you know who you are if you're reading this I won't out you but be warned!). My first impulse upon reading such blasphemy was to throw my iPhone across the room in rage. Wilst cooler heads prevailed upon that notion there was still a deep confusion and remorse over the state of another ignorant American soul.
Before getting into the particular excitements of international soccer and the World Cup in particular, I wish to present the reader with a metaphor:
Soccer is called the beautiful game around the world "Jogo Bonita" in the particular country where the World Cup is currently being hosted. Other things that have historically been dubbed "beautiful" are things like: The poetry of William Shakespeare, The music of Motzart, the artwork of Michelangelo, and the literature of Dostoevsky. All of these "beautiful" things have something else in common besides their beauty; an acquired taste. Just like fine wine, bourbon, and even coffee, to enjoy the best of what there is to offer one must acquire a taste for what is being offered...The same is true for soccer!
For starters, the USA might get three world cup games every FOUR YEARS (yes, just over four hours of WC soccer every four years if we qualify for the tournament). Considering the rarity of the actual matches I find even a defensive 0-0 tie in a World Cup game immensely intriguing for no other reason than the rarity of the event.
All this being said, the excitement of a soccer match is rarely based solely in the number of goals scored. Yes, high scoring games are fun to watch. When The Netherlands beat Spain 5-1 last week it was really fun to watch. However, a trained eye knows that there is much more to watch in a soccer match than just the goals. If you ever want to test this theory out then go to your local pub some morning this fall and watch and EPL (English Premier League) match, better yet, watch the fans watching the EPL match.
What you'll see is a group of people cheer about a sequence of four passes from one side of the field to the other. To you it's nothing special, to them they saw the danger of a turnover in that position and the skill it took to maintain possession and bring the ball out of pressure. You may also find the entire bar go up in outrage over a seemingly weak tackle in the middle of the field (you don't understand why the ref is giving a yellow card for such a weak tackle). To the trained eye, one team was in the heart of a lightning quick counter-attack when a player from the opposing team did just enough to trip the player on the ball. Again, you might see a game end in a 0-0 tie and half of the fans are overjoyed by the prospect that their team just got hammered for 90 minutes but didn't give up a goal. You don't understand why anyone would be happy about such a lame result, they understand that they were massive underdogs and where playing away and where happy to get out of there with a point (tie = 1 pt.).
In other words, it all comes down to understanding the game. Like any sport, soccer has rules that are confusing and extremely complex strategy with each increasing skill in the level of play. In the NFL the offensive and defensive schemes are much more complex than a high school football teams, every inch of the field is weighed and measure to see advantages and disadvantages. The same is true in soccer. If one team has extremely skilled wingers (players who play near the sidelines and cross balls into the box) then you have to strategize for that. Likewise, if a team likes to play possession soccer in the middle of the field you have to strategize for that too.
When American sports fans complain about soccer being boring I find an unnerving lack of understanding for the game they are critiquing. It is like criticizing another countries billboards because they are in another language and you can't read them. Before you start to complain about soccer being boring or how stupid the "offsides" rule is on Twitter, make sure you've taken the time to actually understand the sport.
I've never been a huge fan of the sport of baseball, but I also never played baseball growing up. I never really understand all the nuances to the sport. I had a friend begin to explain to me the importance of pitch counts, the bullpin, hitting strategies, stealing bases, etc. and the game immediately became much more interesting to me. I began to understand that there is an almost innumerable number of things occurring at any given moment of a baseball game.
The same is true of soccer. Wherever the ball is, whatever the score is, whatever the possession states are, and whoever is playing, there are always a thousand things going on on the soccer field that a trained eye will find intriguing. The more you know the more you can see and the more you can see the more entertained you are!
If you think soccer is boring but you've never taken the time to try and understand how the game works, what offsides is, or you have no idea what's going on in the World Cup then do a little research. Go to YouTube and search "offsides" explanations or soccer 101. Furthermore, if you have been watching the World Cup but are a little confused as to how the tournament works I've written an entire post attempting to put the workings of the tournament into layman's terms!
I hope you've enjoyed this rant and will be sure to toon into the next USA World Cup match this Sunday evening at 6PM (EST) against Portugal! It's a huge game and if we can just tie them we have a huge shot at moving through to the "knockout" phase of the tournament!
Food for thought!