From what I've seen, the United States has the most honorable soccer team in the 2010 World Cup.
This isn't about talent or skill. It's not about heart or gumption or grit or any of those intangible qualities, either.
This is about flopping like fish.
And we don't do it.
|No flopping for Steve Cherundolo. After a hard hit by England's James Milner, he bounces right back. (AP)|
For the sake of this story, I care about the honor of our soccer team. I care about our ethics. About our sense of fair play.
I care that we don't flop like fish.
Almost everyone else does it, some worse than others. I'm talking to you, Nigeria. And to you, Germany. Those guys flop like Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd. They flop like a flock of Greg Pauluses. So do players from France and Uruguay and Argentina. When a defender makes a play for the soccer ball at their feet, these guys dive like a stick of dynamite has been thrown their way -- and they writhe in pain like the TNT blew off their knee.
But Americans don't flop. It wasn't just one guy, so don't go off on that tangent, people -- but the best example of American honor from Saturday came in the 26th minute. The USA was trailing 1-0 when Steve Cherundolo was challenged by England's James Milner. It was a forceful challenge, and Cherundolo legitimately went flying. A whistle blew. This was a game-changing moment. If Milner drew a red card, he would be ejected and England would have to try to protect its 1-0 lead for the final 64 minutes with just 10 players. But Cherundolo didn't bother faking an injury -- he popped up immediately, and the referee gave Milner a yellow caution card.
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And I just about started to hum the only Lee Greenwood song in my iPod. Because I was proud to be an American.
The honest way the Americans play the game is one more reason to like this team. But all this dishonest flopping that everyone else is doing? It's one more reason to dislike soccer.
And lots of you don't need another reason to dislike soccer. You already don't like the low scores, the way games in stage play can end in a tie, the way soccer fans talk down to you like you're an imbecile if you don't pay homage to the beautiful game. I don't agree with those of you who dislike soccer -- I played it through high school, even had a college scholarship offer that I turned down -- but I hear your reasons and don't discount them. They're legit. Is the game boring to me? Nope. But at the same time, I'm not a soccer snob who demands to know HOW DARE YOU DISLIKE THIS SPORT? Not me. I get it.
And if the flopping turns away more of you, well, I'd get that too. Players get hit in one area of the body and grab another, like Nigeria's Chinedu Obasi, who was nudged from behind by an Argentine player and dove to the ground, holding his testicles. A few minutes later, Argentina's Jonas Gutierrez upended Obasi -- legitimately took him out near the ankle -- and Obasi went for an Oscar. He rolled around like a Top Fuel dragster after a horrific crash, over and over, his hand sliding up from his ankle to his knee to his (again) testicles. Maybe I'm being too hard on Obasi. Maybe he just liked the way he feels down ... there. But it looked to me like he was trying to convince the referee that Gutierrez had fouled him so egregiously that only a red card would do.
|Tim Cahill (4) is the victim of a cheap red card thanks to some skillful acting. (Getty Images)|
But, no. The announcers are as stupid as the officials. A player dives, and the announcers make like the referee and get outraged at the offending tackle. Puh-lease.
Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger earned a Best Supporting Actor from the
Academy referee Sunday against Australia, but not for his first role. In that one, Schweinsteiger's leg was in the air when Australia's Vincenzo Grella ran into it. Schweinsteiger made like a fire-drill pupil -- he stopped, dropped and rolled. No card for Grella. So Schweinsteiger got up and continued on. Moments later, in Act 2, Aussie Tim Cahill slid into him and clipped him on the ankle. Schweinsteiger dived as if Cahill had thrown one of those sticks of TNT -- and then grabbed his face. Like the shrapnel had taken out an eye.
The referee rewarded Schweinsteiger with a standing ovation, which is to say, he gave Cahill a red card. Here it is. See for yourself. It was a hard tackle, but it was not -- as Schweinsteiger himself told Cahill later -- cause for a red card. But the official bought it because, well, I don't really know why the official bought it. Because he's stupid? Works for me. Cahill walked off the field. Schweinsteiger rose and ran back toward the action. Because he was never hurt, see.
This is one of those times when you have to respect golfers. Those guys go way over the top when it comes to sportsmanship, disqualifying themselves for accidentally signing an incorrect scorecard. It's crazy, but golfers will do everything to avoid the appearance of cheating. Soccer players are the opposite -- they'll do everything to cheat. When defenders line up to 10 yards from the ball to defend a free kick, the human wall will creep forward, inch by inch, unless the referee stops it. When the ball goes out of bounds, whoever's throwing it in will go to the spot where the ball left the field, then start bounding forward, yard after yard, oftentimes gaining 10 or 15 yards of field position simply by, well, cheating.
And when two players collide, as they will do throughout the game, one of them -- and sometimes both of them; Grella flopped after running into Schweinsteiger's knee -- will scream like he's been buried alive.
It's nauseating, and I'll go a step farther: It's un-American. Because our guys don't do it.
Tell 'em, Lee: God bless the U-S-A.