World Cup Fever

I grew up in a small town with a smaller public school system.

In this small public school district, the only time soccer was offered as a sport was during a summer months league.  The programs were largely put on by volunteer coaches/refs and organizations like the Jaycees printed team uniforms.  I took part in this summer soccer league for 2 or 3 summers during my elementary grade-school years.  I never had much interest in it though; as I wanted to spend the precious summer vacation months riding my bike, playing nintendo with my brother, and watching TV and cartoons.  Really I only participated in soccer because my parents took me, my dad volunteer coached our teams, and many of my friends played.

I soon outgrew the summer soccer league, and my minimal interest in the sport faded until it was a complete and total lack thereof.  I didn’t follow the sport, I didn’t find any interest in it whatsoever, even when a more organized school sponsored team formed during my late high school years.

Fast forward more than a decade – and I have World Cup fever.

Before this World Cup started, I couldn’t have named a single soccer player aside from David Beckham.  Still, for reasons that I simply cannot understand or communicate, I’ve made a strong effort to watch as much soccer as possible in these early stages of the tournament.  It started perhaps with the much-hyped USA vs England round 1 match, but it’s since morphed into near addiction.  Following the USA alone has been thrilling and entertaining.  They’ve had very dramatic games with tight scoring, referee controversy, and topped that off with a sensational last minute victory over Algeria to win their group and advance.  Even with the US since being eliminated by Ghana, they’ve certainly made me a fan.

I have been trying to decide the pros and cons of this sport, maybe searching to answers for why I’m all the sudden so into it and eager to jump on the bandwagon.  So this is the best I can come up with:

What I like about Soccer:

  • No stoppage of play.  The clock keeps ticking no matter what.  Any lost time for injuries or substitutions is added on at the end of the match per referee discretion.  Compare that to the NBA where the last 2 minutes of a game take nearly as long as the previous 3 periods combined.  Whistles, timeouts, fouls, etc.  Soccer maintains a much quicker flow and consistent tempo because of this and I am glad it works that way.
  • Yellow/Red cards.  Seeing somebody get kicked out for a red card is purely entertaining.  I also enjoy the fact that a red-carded player results in the team playing a man down for the remainder of the match.
  • The teamwork.  Soccer is similar in strategy to hockey.  The length of the field and gameplay result in a lot of ball movement, passing, and formations.  This makes it impossible to have a “Ball hog” type player a-la Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.  One player can’t make the team, and I like that.
  • Substitutions.  I don’t know how other leagues do it, but international rules of the Worldcup only allow for 3 substitutions per match.  This adds to the dynamic of the game, and speaks volumes to the conditioning of the athletes.

What I don’t like about Soccer:

  • Dives.  It seems like players continuously take dives at the slightest hint of any contact in an effort to draw penalties.  They do this more than in any other sport I have ever seen.  A slight tap to the calf muscle may result in the player writhing in pain as though his leg was just blown off by a frag grenade.  It’s just completely ridiculous.  But the public makes the most if it with hilarious hilight compilations scattered throughout the web.
  • Vuvuzelas.  I can understand blowing an effing Vuvuzela when something happens in the game…  When a goal is scored, a foul, or a great play.  But when fans just blow them continuously and constantly it makes no sense to me whatsoever.  It’s almost like the fans are bored with soccer and have to do something to occupy themselves.  The sound is annoying, distracting, and is seriously almost unbearable to cope with.  It sounds like a swarm of steroid pumping insects that can devour anything in their paths.   They’re terrible.

With all of that detailed near-amateur analysis, the bottom line is that I’ve enjoyed this year’s World Cup tournament quite alot.  I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it play out.  And I just may be a converted soccer fan.