Recently I have become a professional soccer fan. And I do mean recently. As in this year. My daughters have been playing the sport for years. I even stepped in last year to coach my 6 year old's team when their original coach had to withdraw for work related reasons. I literally knew nothing of the game other than "no hands" and kick it in the other goal.
A couple of months ago I bought my girls the FIFA 2010 soccer game for their Wii in an effort to further their interest and knowledge of the game. They haven't played it much, but I have. And I love it. I've learned more about soccer in the past couple of months than in the previous 40+ years. It's a wonderful sport and my new found sport is helping me get through the Spring and Summer doldrums that result from the lack of American Football.
Most people that I talk to tell me they just haveven't ever been able to get into enjoying soccer because they find it boring. What I have observed of the sport at the professional level is that it isn't anywhere near as boring to me as baseball or golf watched on TV. Don't get me wrong, I love going to baseball games, but I cannot watch them on TV. I love playing golf, but I always take naps when other's are playing it on my TV. And then there is basketball which at most only has my attention during the NCAA Tournament in March of each year.
So in a nutshell, the only major sport I enjoy watching on TV is Football, both college and the NFL, and the season only runs from September through the end of January. For 7 months out of each year, I really haven't been able to find anything else of interest. I tried NASCAR for a few years, but it's more of a male soap opera if you ask me. I think I found something to enjoy from February through the fall now and that's the other type of Futball.
Major League Soccer (MLS) is entering it's 15th season and just expanded this year with a new team in Philly with two more teams being added next year (Portland and Vancouver). The World Cup is also this summer in June and July in South Africa. The USA Team plays powerhouse England in our first match. All-in-all, it's a good year to develop an interst in the other Futball. You know, the type that everyone else on the planet is rabid about.
Why are several billion people so passionate about futball? I have a few reasons why I have become an overnight fan:
1. The game is played in two 45 minute halves and the clock doesn't stop for anything nor does TV break away for commercials during play. At the end of each half, time is added onto the game, extending play, to make up for lost time due to injuries and player substitutions that ate up the clock during the half. So you get about 47-50 minutes of no comercial interruptions. That's a big plus for me. And with Tivo and DVR's, I just pause the game when I need a break and catch up to live action sometime during the commercials that run at half-time.
2. Because it is so hard to navigate with the ball using anything BUT your hands and arms through a picket fence of bodies, scores are usually very low, which might be why many think of it as boring, but that also means the underdog is almost always in the game just needing one break for a chance to win. The nature of the game itself is a great equalizer. We Americans always love the underdog and in futball, the underdog has a better chance to pull off the upset than in almost any other sport.
3. America should dominate in this sport. Simply put, the best futball teams in the world field 11 players from everywhere. Soccer teams are a microcosm of the the Melting Pot that is the United States. On the super teams in Europe you will see players from all over Europe, but also from Asia, the Middle East, South America, Africa and even the United States more and more. Our country is made up of people from all over the world, just like the really good teams in this sport. We already have the gene pool in our back yards to be the best of the best without having to look all over the world to find them. We just need to develop the talent better.
4. Acting. That's right, just like basketball players and punters in football, soccer players are excellent at overdramatizing in an effort to draw a penalty which can result in a free kick or even better another player being kicked out of the game. It's sometimes very humerous to watch the feigned agony of a player on the ground trying to draw a penalty on the other team. Regardless of the outcome, the injured player is usually up and running at 100% within 30 seconds. And unlike hockey, when a player is kicked out of the game for what is essentially unnecesary roughness, it isn't for just a few minutes, it's for the rest of the game and his team cannot replace him with another player. The underdog has an even better chance when it's 11 on 10, thus the motivation for superb (and humerous) acting.
More and more Americans are playing the game each year from rec leagues to high schools and it is gowing rapidly here. I hope it isn't too long before it is picked up by more Division 1 colleges, but Title IX is a major hurdle to fielding men's soccer teams right now. Take a peak at a game or two this summer as Team USA takes on the world in South Africa and then take a gander at an ESPN televised MLS game on a Thursday night or some lazy Saturday this summer. It may take awhile to adopt the game, but there are a number of reasons why billions of others are so rabid about it. And keep an eye out for a local semi-pro team to pop up in your hometown. If you get a local team, go to a game in person. You'll see.