Folks, as we kick off (ha) another World Cup, I am trying really hard to like soccer. I get that it’s the most popular sport in the world. But, like every attempt I’ve ever made to like Brussels sprouts (did you know Brussels was plural in this context? I did not until spell check just told me so), I’m failing miserably. Even my son, who shares my primary passion for sports that matter (baseball, basketball, and football), is watching some World Cup action. Why is it that I struggle so much with this? After all, I’m a sports junkie. I did a bit of introspection on this topic and the answer started to gel when I picked up the USA Today in the Miami airport just now.
The headline on the front page of the USA Today is “USA Stuns Ghana.” What? Seriously? With all respect due my Ghanan friends, and I have many, how in the world is it possible for the United States of America to beat Ghana at anything and have it be a “stunner.” Let’s look at some simple numbers:
|Size||3,800,000 square miles||92,000 square miles|
|Per Capita GDP||$50,000||$1,600|
|Median Household Income||$51,371||$1,240|
|Number of Kids Running Around on Soccer Fields on the Average Saturday||100,000,000 (10 million in my county alone)||I don’t know, but there are only 25 million people in the whole country|
|Number of Type A Soccer Moms Who Push Their Sons into Travel Soccer||94,000,000||0|
Unless you’re prepared to argue that every one of the millions of kids playing soccer in the United States are genetically inferior soccer players, then we have a simple numbers problem. But, whatever the reasons, our huge imperialistic, exceptional country sucks so bad at soccer, it’s a major upset when we beat a third world country roughly the size of Michigan. So, yeah, maybe some jingoistic sour grapes.
But, let’s get to the sport itself. It has been well documented that soccer is about as exciting as watching paint dry. I’m sorry, that was insensitive to the hard working folks in the paint industry, including the chemists who have worked hard to formulate the paint to dry quickly and evenly. It’s actually quite interesting if you really watch it carefully.
As a frequent visitor to Miami, I have been subjected to World Cup games on the TVs in several restaurants recently, all with the commentary in Spanish. Though I speak passable Spanish, I cannot understand a soccer commentator yelling at fever pitch. So, while I don’t know what they’re saying, I can certainly tell when things are getting really exciting in the game as the tone, pitch, and volume of the commentator’s voice all go up 10-fold (from 13 on a 1 to 10 scale up to 130 on that same scale). Whenever this happens (about every 27 seconds) I look up at the TV with anticipation to see the goal that was just scored. Instead, I see a guy running down the field kicking the ball with another guy chasing him. What exactly was the reason for the announcer’s stroke-inducing excitement? As best I can translate, he was yelling, “The guy kicks the ball and runs. AND THE OTHER GUY KICKED IT AND IS RUNNING. OH MY GOD, THE OTHER GUY KICKED IT AGAIN AND IS NOW RUNNING SOME MORE!!!!!!!”
In the final analysis, however, the interminably boring aspect of the game is not what gets me. It’s the fake injuries. I watch a lot of football (yes, the real football – you know, the one played with helmets and a spheroid). There are at least a couple of blown ACLs every weekend in the NFL. I’ve never blown my ACL, but people who have say it is excruciatingly painful. And, yet these 300 lb men with shredded ACLs manage to limp off the field with little more than a shoulder to lean on.
Last night, while watching the USA/Ghana game a player banged his knee into another guy’s knee. Yeah, I’m sure that boo boo hurt a bit. The dude writhed in pain on the ground as if someone had just cut his Achilles tendon with a butter knife. And then the part that really got me. A Medic ran out on the field with some type of medical bag. Seriously, what’s he going to do, cut him open and operate on the field? I guess realizing that the surgical procedure could not, in fact, be performed at the stadium, the medic summoned help to get the player off the field. And, then, the coup de grace. They carried the player off the field in what can only be described as an open coffin. Not an army stretcher. No, this thing had walls. It was a casket. I suppose that’s a time-saver if they’re going to skip surgery and take the player with the bruised knee straight to the cemetery.
Hey, I’m not going to pretend that baseball is a tough sport. It’s a grind through a 162-game schedule, but it’s not as physically demanding as many other sports. But, from a very young age baseball players are taught to keep their pain to themselves. Watch a Major League game when a player gets hit by a pitch. You will NEVER seem the player rub the spot where the pitch hit him. No matter how intense the pain (have you ever been drilled with a 95 mph fastball in the rib cage? Yeah, me neither), you never rub it. Can’t soccer players at least show some toughness?
Oh yeah, and while we’re at it, is there some reason the goddam clock can’t count backwards like every other sport in the world that is timed?
Thank God it’s baseball season!