"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, June 13, 2014

Soccer Is Boring, Boring, Boring

Barely 4 percent of Americans care about soccer, and most of these are transplanted foreigners. It is easy to see why.  Soccer is boring, low scoring, without an easily recognizable structure, and most importantly, no hands.  It is one thing to watch players miss most passes, get rare good looks at the goal, and run around in circles for ninety minutes; but no hands? For American sportsmen power may come from the legs, but what’s really happening is up top.  The homerun in baseball may be generated from massive quads and gluts, but it is the perfect arc of the bat meeting the ball and transferring torque and lower body strength into pure kinetic energy that sends the ball into the bleachers. 

The long pass downfield in football is no different. A quarterback’s body must work perfectly to generate strength, assure accuracy, and launch a perfect spiral.  The wide receiver at the moment of reception must have intense concentration and beautiful hands.  They must be strong enough to catch and grip a pass thrown at 60 MPH, pull an errant throw down with one hand, fight off a defender in an athletic, powerful stretch and reach of his hands. 

A basketball player’s hands are the expression of his genius.  While the pinpoint pass requires intelligence, court vision, and geometry; the execution is with the hands.  A bullet pass to an open, cutting forward.  A light floater shot with balletic grace.  A no-look pass made with dexterous control and anticipation.

I am told by soccer aficionados that is has all the grace, athleticism, and intelligence of hands-on sport, but I am not buying it.  A foot taped and wrapped and shod in socks and leather can never have the elegance, versatility, and sophisticated control of the hand.

Feet are clodhoppers designed to keep us from falling over and to help with locomotion. A quick look at Olympic 100 meter runners, and one is truck by the massive thighs and powerful torso and arms.  Every muscle has been strengthened to the limit and trained to perform with only one goal in mind – a smooth and fast sprint to the finish line.  Below is a picture of Asafa Powell.  Note that the photographer did not bother to include his feet.

The reason why so many soccer passes go awry, why scoring is so low, and why most matches are no more than playground scrambles for loose balls is because of the no-hands rule.  Below is a Roman statue of Hercules, an early homage to Greco-Roman football, the precursor to European soccer.

It is no wonder that most Americans are bored stiff with club soccer.  Who is going to watch a mean-nothing match between the Portland Timbers and the Columbus Crew, sitting for two hours in the rain in a game ending in a scoreless draw?  Nobody in their right mind.

There is one and only one time when soccer is interesting to watch – the World Cup – and interest has nothing to do with the game itself but with the xenophobic rivalries between countries.  It is one thing to watch Manchester United play Real Madrid; but another thing altogether to watch Germany vs. Argentina.

The 2014 World Cup, as everyone knows, is being held in Brazil where soccer is not just a game or a national pastime but part of nationhood.  It is central to culture and identity. It transcends sport and is more about drama, ballet, and artistic beauty than athletics. Winning and losing have nothing to do with fandom or team allegiance.  While club soccer is about place, local support, and passionate followings; rooting for the Seleção is about soul - some central defining quality as deeply-rooted as the Russian Motherland.  Just as Russians dream about the steppes and sense something almost spiritual about vast prairies, Siberian woods, and winding rivers, Brazilians imagine soccer heaven.

No country is as totally committed to their team as Brazil.  As much enthusiasm as Germans, French, Spanish, or Portuguese fans can generate for their national eleven, it is nothing compared to that of Brazil.  Brazilians are crazy for soccer.

Even if Brazil doesn’t play, matches between historical rivals can generate interest even in the casual fan.  The United States versus North Korea is a particularly good matchup because the two countries are enemies; and because rumors had it four years ago that the North Korean team was executed by Kim Jong Il because they did so poorly, never scoring a goal and shamed by Portugal 7-0, many people were hoping that they would qualify for this year’s World Cup.

It will be fun to watch Nigeria, a country of scammers, Boko Haram, corruption, and incompetence, play Iran, a nation that most in the West consider a throwback to the Middle Ages. 

Russia is in an uninspiring group this year, but just as everyone in the US rooted against France in 2006 because of their refusal to join forces in the War in Iraq, many Americans will root against Russia because of Ukraine.

I root against Argentina because of its Fascist past, the most impossible First Couple ever – Juan and Eva Peron – and their hyper-inflation no matter who is in office. I root against Portugal because TAP Airlines lost my luggage, cancelled my flight, and forced me to spend two days in the Lisbon airport.  I always root for Italy because I am a goomba.

So watching soccer once every four years does not qualify me as a soccer fan, but I watch almost every game.  I am learning a bit more about the game itself.  If anyone thinks that the balk rule in baseball is sketchy, try figuring out ‘offsides’ in soccer. I still can’t figure out when a ball is out-of-bounds and who gets to kick what from where; but it doesn’t matter.  Only the score does.

Many Americans wonder why if soccer is such a big deal in the lower grades here, why the enthusiasm has not carried on to MLS.  The answer is easy.  Soccer is a non-contact (basically), non-dangerous, non-threatening sport that both boys and girls can play – all very PC and acceptable especially in white suburbs.  Schools and Boys and Girls Clubs love it because it is cheap – an old lumpy field, a net, and a ball are all you need. The ranks of young soccer players winnow as children get older, for the most gifted athletes follow the money to basketball, football, and baseball.  DC United Matches are fun, I have been told, because the Latinos – the vast majority of the sparse crowds – are excitable.  The latest attendance figures for the NE Revolution are 22 percent capacity; for DC United 30 percent; and for Chivas USA 31 percent.  These figures are artificially high because the stadiums are reconfigured for soccer, eliminating hundreds of seats.  Collateral interest is not enough to draw big crowds.

Most of the world thinks the US is crazy because of our indifference to The Beautiful Game, another twisted example of American exceptionalism.  We know different, however.  Any game played without the hands is boring, boring, boring.  

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