Tuesday, March 13, 2007

True feelings on Futbol

There's not a lot of adults in the US, compared with the number of adults who enjoy other sports that are popular, that really get excited about soccer. I listen to sports talk radio on my way to work each morning, Mike and Mike on ESPN, and you seldom hear one word about soccer. Why should we? Professional soccer in the US draws fewer fans to the stadiums than Arena football. It's a far, far cry from the soccer that is played in Europe, where the fans are so rabid for their teams, they make the Oakland Raiders fans look like sissies. They had to keep the visiting fans from Barcelona out of the stadium the other night until after the game had started so that there wouldn't be any fights. These people aren't any less civilized than Americans are, they simply live and die for their teams. It encompasses every level of social stratosphere, from the CEOs down to the homeless guy on the street. Gang members to church members.

For most US fans they just can't figure out what's to get excited about. I really don't think it's something that can be explained. It's really something that just happens to you one day. Maybe you're watching your six year-old play, or maybe you happen to stop and watch a game on cable as you're surfing, looking for another cooking show. You find that the crowd is roaring every 20 seconds or so as ball after ball is being passed low on the ground, threading its way through two or three defenders, to a sprinting forward who may have a chance at getting a shot off. Maybe it's a ball being passed in the air, by a player running full speed towards the endline, from one sideline to a point in space roughly 5 yards in front of the goal about 8 feet in the air, where 1 or 2 teammates are waiting to get any part of their body on it so that they can score the winning goal. Maybe it's you own son or daughter, playing defense, running down that superstar kid from the other team, and laying out everything, skin, blood and pride, to make sure that kid doesn't even get close to their goal. I choke up just writing that last sentence.

I've got a son in college, playing soccer, loving soccer more all the time. He's achieved so much already, but he knows there is so much more to learn. My wife and I haven't been able to see him play college ball yet, because the one time we made the trip up to Kansas, he was injured during warm-ups. We did get to see his team play, though, and it was very impressive. We thought we'd seen our son play good soccer before, for his high school and club teams, but this was a whole different level. I was very impressed, and very proud that the coach of this team saw something in my son that said he belonged on this field with these other men. Now, consider this; My son, at the time, was on the JV team for an NAIA member school, which is probably somewhere between D-1 and D-2 level NCAA soccer. Above college soccer, in skill level going up, are professional development leagues, semi-pro leagues, professional indoor soccer, professional soccer minor leagues, Major League Soccer (MLS), Mexican League , South American League, Various regional professional leagues in Italy, China, Africa, Japan, Germany and Spain, and then tops above all that is the English Premier League. My son is playing on a team where every player routinely does various things with a soccer ball 20, maybe 50, times a game that I couldn't even dream about doing even one of them once in 100 tries.

I'm not sure what my point is, other than this; soccer at any level is a constant celebration and exhibition of the fruit of hard work and passion, of dedication and discipline, of teamwork and athleticism. Every moment of every game, wherever the ball is on the field, and very often away from the ball, soccer players are exhibiting skills that are worthy of cheering for. From catching the ball with their chest and having it drop right at their feet, to firing a shot with their foot with a ball that is three feet in the air moving at 30 mph. Defenders knowing just where their teammates are going to be and midfielders putting a pass perfectly at the feet of a streaking teammate. I love this game!