Thursday, June 10, 2010

World Cup 2010: The Soccer/Futbol Debate Senior Soccer Analyst and Los Angeles correspondent, Josh Garcia, is back with the final installment in his continuing series examining the 2010 World Cup.

Maybe it’s where I come from or grew up that finds me always defending this sport. Oneonta, NY is home to the National Soccer Hall of Fame. I like to consider myself an ambassador of sorts and "enlightener" of the beautiful game. It is my favorite sport to watch, play, write and talk about.

No sport is as polarizing as soccer or, as most people call it, football. You either love it like the rest of the world or you hate it like an American. We live in a society of haters. People read stories all day, watch videos, listen to songs, and then usually they leave comments. These comments are usually hateful, idiotic, illogical, or poorly worded messages. I’ll hopefully get to all the really dumb comments.

Now I like to consider myself fair and unbiased when it comes to most logical arguments. I can look at both sides, the negatives and the positives. I can see why people love it and why some Americans are not the biggest fans of Soccer. I get it, Americans like to see scoring and cars going around in circles. That’s why the NFL, NBA, MLB and NASCAR are so huge. I’m a fan of three out of the four. I also understand that only mostly Americans care about the NFL. It is America’s sport and we take great pride in that fact. The NBA is becoming more globally appealing, and for many countries, basketball is their number two sport, behind soccer. MLB has had mixed success in their World Baseball Classic. Ironically, the USA have not won a WBC. I say ironic because the winner in October is the “World Champion,” not National Champion.

The big three do have a lot of scoring, touchdowns, 3-pointers, home runs, alley oops, field goals, sac flys, etc. Americans love to see their sports with a healthy amount of scoring, or else what’s the point? That’s commonly a knock against soccer. “I never see any scoring.” I get that, when you’re used to MLB games that are 8-5, NBA games that are 99-94 and NFL games that are 35-31. I get how you can watch a 0-0 soccer draw and be unimpressed. For the record, I’ve seen entertaining 0-0 soccer games, that include cards, cross bar hits and many near misses.

Soccer doesn’t have time outs like most sports, it’s a full 90 minutes plus stoppage time. No commercials and the only time it is stopped is when someone is injured or “injured.” Don’t worry I’ll get back to that. American football literally plays for 12 minutes per game. That’s the average amount that the ball is actually in play. With all the commercial breaks and pauses in between plays, I don’t understand. American football players have full pads and helmets. Soccer players have shin guards and bones will break. I say this because I always hear soccer players are the "P" word.

Editor's note: Pretty nasty injury in the video below. Not exactly Joe Theismann-esque, but you probably shouldn't watch if you're squeamish.

I hear and read soccer isn’t even a sport. How is that even an argument? "You can’t even use your hands." Goalies can and Diego Maradona will beg to differ. You also throw in the ball when it's out of bounds on either sideline. That you can tie in soccer is a big problem Americans have with it. You can tie in American football and hockey, too.

Soccer is as much about creating the goals as it is scoring the goals. There is a certain art to soccer. For football fans it’s sort of like watching a Barry Sanders highlight. You don’t watch to see Barry enter the endzone, you watch for what he does on the field, his elusiveness, his coming out of a pile. To a certain extent that is true with soccer, it’s about creating the opportunity.

I’ll be the first one to tell you, its hard to be a soccer fan in America, when the MLS compared to EPL or La Liga is like watching middle school girls basketball compared to the NBA. MLS is slower paced and less skilled than the best leagues, but it is improving. Europe sees it as a retirement home for guys who have lost a step, but at the same time, MLS is sending some of its talent around the world to compete with the best.

I can’t stand when players fake injury or barely get hit and are flailing on the ground like they got shot, but I do see the strategy in taking a dive around the 20 yard mark to set up a free kick. I get that part, but I don’t like the acting or diving. I think there should be harsher penalties if you are faking it, but it really is no different than Pau Gasol taking a charge or a QB getting “hit,” falling to the ground and taking a 15-yard penalty. All of it, for better or worse is part of the game.

All I know is that in less than 24 hours I’ll be telivisionally (made that word up) united with most of the world as we celebrate the planet’s biggest sporting event. 106 million people watched this year's Super Bowl, and the World Cup finals will be about seven times larger with billions of people watching the tournament.

Saturday will be the USA’s biggest challenge of the group stage as they play England. If you are or aren’t soccer fan, you should at least tune in to this one game. The Americans don’t have much of a chance but there is always hope and if anybody is old enough to remember what happened in 1950, then they know all it takes is one.

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