Thursday, July 13, 2006

Fútbor, Otra Vez

A letter to the American Spectator:

Reid Collins makes good points about soccer. May I try my hand, as it were, or is that a yellow card?

Having enjoyed playing soccer so much in gym class, I determined to watch as much of the World Cup competition as I could to see if I could awaken some of that zeal vicariously. I couldn't, but at least now I think I know why.

First, the game is just so imprecise!

The very best players in the world managed to:

* Attempt passes that were intercepted about as often as not;

* Attempt head contact with the ball and get only air, about as often as not;

* Attempt shots on goal that went wide left, wide right or high, and I do mean high, almost without exception; and, second;

* Drop to the ground and writhe as if in the throes of flaming death upon contact by an opponent, much, much more often than would the best coached NFL quarterback or a major league batter plunked by a 95 mph fastball in any but his tenderest parts, or any hockey player at any level (this has nothing to do with imprecision, but everything to do with American distaste).

These results are virtually indistinguishable from the results observed on the makeshift "pitch" of McClellan Elementary, circa 1965. In the latter case, fun was had by all except Mr. Rosensteel, who could be observed rolling his eyes in disbelief at the ineptitude (and disgust at the "sissiness") rampant on his treasured playing field, as he waited patiently for the curriculum to dictate a change to instruction in more American and rewarding pursuits, even if that only meant running laps.

Daring not to venture slurs on the athletic abilities of our global community, I can only hazard that the Good Lord (or evolution, if you must) gave us hands for a reason, or reasons. One of those reasons must be to propel a ball of some description toward a goal, however defined or indirect. If He had meant our feet for such a purpose, He (or "it") would have made them prehensile. Even the strictest proponent of evolution must admit that we humans didn't get to the top of the food chain by virtue of anything done with our feet or by using our heads as battering rams.

Compare and contrast the precision of a touchdown pass, an NBA three pointer off a fast break or a slider not quite down and away on a 3-2 count with what was witnessed in the World Cup competition. These are the things Americans want to see. Many of us will even settle for a pitch to the green from deep in the bunker by Tiger Woods, or Tony Stewart threading the needle between the wall and Jeff Gordon. Good Lord, I hate to watch tennis, but it sure doesn't tolerate wildness, and the highlight reel isn't about missed shots.

We want to see strategy, tactics and execution that pay off or have bad consequences. Make a bad pass in soccer and the game drones on. Make a bad shot on goal in soccer and the game drones on, as does the utterly incessant chanting of the apparently hypnotized fans. Do anything but score in soccer and the game drones on, with intercepted passes, missed shots and extra writhing when the lads get distressed in addition to tired.

That brings me to my other point. What's the point of having a ninety-minute game with limited substitution on a field bigger than a football field, when so many games must be decided by shootouts? I have no clue what that's about, but it has to be great for concession sales.

I can also hardly believe that these well-conditioned athletes can't bear the pansy hits that send them into histrionics on the grass. I think they just get tired and milk the so-called "hits" for a break. In sixth grade, guys like that just stayed away from the ball, but at the level of the World Cup, that would hardly do, would it? Would it help to pad these guys more fully?

I could go on with some speculation about how the success of any country's soccer team seems to vary inversely with that nation's war record and leadership in the defense of freedom, but I don't feel like looking it up. However, seeing Italy and France playing for the championship raised the issue in my mind. I stand prepared to be corrected.

Americans aren't used to the imprecise, lollygagging style of soccer. We don't have hours long dinners, months long vacations or siestas at noon. We got to be the most productive nation on the planet by means of strategy, tactics and execution, and we didn't tie our hands behind our backs or reward those with thick skulls, except for boxers. Even then, how many of the great heavyweights have come from the rest of the world?

Sure, put the World Cup on TV. Take the kids to practice and games. Support your local high school or college soccer team. On the other hand, don't feel guilty because you 'just don't get it' about soccer at the 'highest levels'. After all, it looks pretty much like soccer at the lowest levels.

-- Mark Fallert
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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