The best thing the American soccer community has done viz. the upcoming World Cup is something it hasn't done -- making the tournament more like a fun party you are all invited to, and less like eating your vegetables.
As a result, the Cup, which begins Friday, is being greeted as what it is in America, a great show where casual fans who will stop watching soccer the day after the final (or the day the Americans get eliminated) can still come in, enjoy the show and not get a lecture from a more strident fan.
|Carlos Eugenio Simon has not cultivated the finest feedback in soccer circles. (Getty Images)|
For instance, the referee for Saturday's England-USA match is quite possibly a cross between Jim Joyce and Tim Donaghy, and that makes for great fun right there. From Dominic Fifield of the Guardian, via the lovely American website Can't Stop The Bleeding, we give you Carlos Eugenio Simon.
"[Simon] was suspended last season by his national federation amid accusations of bribery and incompetence ... after a buildup of perceived errors culminated in the president of [Brazilian club] Palmeiras denouncing him as 'a crook, a scoundrel and a shameless bastard.'"
Well, howdy, and welcome oh casual fan to the World Cup. But back to Fifield.
"Simon, 44, retains the support of FIFA although his propensity to court controversy could unnerve [English manager] Fabio Capello [author's note: And also U.S. manager Bob Bradley, presumably]. The Brazilian authorities felt compelled to sanction him last November after he disallowed a Palmeiras goal in their 1-0 defeat by Fluminense, the official judging the scorer to have fouled an opponent in the buildup. The Palmeiras president, Luiz Gonzaga Belluzzo, duly went public with his frustrations at the referee's performance.
"He's a crook, a scoundrel ... just a shameless bastard," Belluzzo said at the time. "He must be in someone's pocket. If I met him in the street, I would slap him. What he did was unbelievable and he was helping Fluminense. He should be driven out of football."
His comments were noted and, after a dialogue with the national referees' association, Simon was eventually suspended by the Brazilian federation for "a repetition of mistakes committed during the competition."
Another Brazilian club president sent a DVD of Simon's greatest hits to FIFA with the lead-in, "Please, FIFA, check this out," and included an accompanying letter which included the endorsement, "The video evidence collected and hereby submitted -- attesting the unambiguously inconsistent, unfair and inequitable technical performance of Mr. Simon -- provides the FIFA referees' committee with a factual account to illustrate the risks of retaining him in the list of referees for the 2010 World Cup."
Now who can't understand that, even in the U.S. where soccer remains a growing but still fringe-y sport? A referee called "a shameless bastard?" Is that still too ambiguous for you to get emotionally involved? Don't you want to know what "a shameless bastard" looks like on the job?
Now we have no opinion on Simon, because frankly we're waiting for Phil Jackson, our nation's referee-baiter laureate, to provide commentary on that. We cannot judge his shamelessness, let alone his bastardhood. But we're interested now. I mean, we were going to watch every game anyway because the World Cup is such unabashed fun, but now we have skin in the game.
This is not a purely American phenomenon, but casual fans get it because of Joyce, the admirably penitent fellow who made Detroit's Armando Galarraga throw the first 28-out perfect game, and because of Donaghy, the man who pops up in David Stern's dreams every time the commish eats heartburn pizza and tepid beer late at night. And every city has its own "ref we love to hate," whether the official has it coming or not.
But let's be honest here. Americans don't give out the kind of literate abuse that results in lyrical phrases like "shameless bastard." The verb "suck" is our favored phrase, and is often modified by an adjective that rhymes with "suck." We would tell you what it is, but Sean McManus watches that stuff like a hawk.
So there's why you need to get stuck into the Cup over the next month, even if soccer doesn't download your PDF file. You don't have to spend time learning the advantages of the 4-4-2 to the 4-5-1 or even the 3-4-1-2, but there are human interest (and bastard interest) stories all over the place beyond just the convenient two-minute filmed packages and mini-bios.
There are universal stories like Carlos Eugenio Simon's, and lots of them. Bask in the happy.