Sophisticates Of Soccer

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November 30, 2011 by David Gillaspie

by David Gillaspie

originally posted on http://www.oregonsportsnews.com/

American sports fans come in every shape and size, like everyone else. They also come in every level of intelligence. Sometimes our intelligence is challenged from overseas. 

In general, Europeans think of themselves as superior to Americans. They are, after all, the ‘olde’ country that early Americans once called home. While our ancestor’s broke ground on a new frontier, their relatives stayed back and lived under the established rules of society with their kings, peasants, and everything in between.

Europeans still pride themselves in finding ways to thrive in their rigid social order. It makes them feel smart. Maybe they are smart. How many new citizens have you met who say, “I live here three years and own house, boat, and car. It is easy. Americans are too lazy.” 

When you think of European sports fans, what sport comes to mind? Soccer.

Soccer is touted as the world game because of it’s easy access. You don’t even need a ball to start out. Kick a can down an alley while others try and take it away and you’re playing soccer.

Germans, Italians, French, and English go wild for kick-ball. Spain builds stadiums that could double as bullfighting rings, but their current status as World Cup champion keeps the cows in the field.

For a fair analysis, sports need to meet in head to head match-ups.

Compare soccer to baseball.

Instead of an inflated big ball with panels, you get a small hardball with raised seams. Instead of striking the ball with your foot, you make contact with a bat. The biggest difference? There is no bean ball in soccer. No one tries to hit a baseball with their head, though someone might try to hit your head with the baseball.

Is soccer more complicated than real football? If you dribble a soccer ball up the sidelines, drop pass to the teammate behind you, then cut to the center for his cross pass, you’ve executed every play in the soccer book. Peewee football has more variations.

Basketball is closer to soccer as long as it’s an over-fifty league game where the players can’t jump. Even then a pick-and-roll play by the old guys is a harder hit than the one that leaves elite level soccer players writhing on the field in mortal pain one moment and scoring the winning goal the next. Don’t even ask about taking a charge.

For decades soccer vowed to take over American sports. What happened? Blame World War I, World War II, and the rest of the continental conflicts.Europe uses soccer to right the perceived wrongs done to them on the battlefields and the treaties afterward.

When once-occupied nations take the field against their former occupier, more is at stake then a tiny World Cup trophy. West Germany’s win over Hungary in 1954 doesn’t reverberate like the famous Soviet Union vs Hungary water polo match in the Melbourne Olympics of ‘56, but it’s still a poke in the eye to a proxy of the original Big Red Machine.

England’s home field victory over West Germany in 1966 doesn’t make up for the Battle of the Somme. It doesn’t forgive the Battle of Britain and buzz bombs. It did raise a nation that suffered enormous losses in each World War.

How bad did the Netherlands want to beat West Germanyin 1974? That was their ‘win one for the Gipper’ moment, except it would have been, ‘win one for Anne Frank.’ The Netherlands lost, but kept it close at 2-1.

American games seem to require different athletes than those who excel in the world game. They are closer to the Olympic ideal of Citius, Altius, Fortius, or faster, higher, stronger for non-Latin speakers. By leaving soccer for the rest of the world, America makes room for other countries on the main stage every four years.

How else can you explain two victories for Uruguay in the World Cup?

If soccer allows European nations to establish dominance without guns and trenches, it also allows South America to stand out as more than a destination for Nazis fleeing Germany after WWII. The boys from Brazil are athletes, not master race clones. Their five World Cup wins are only one more than Italy, even though Italy has the original boot. 

One thing stands between America and soccer: The World Cup Trophy. If it were the size of the Stanley Cup, a NASCAR trophy, of a run of the mill award at your local bowling alley, American athletes would flock to the pitch.

Until then the rest of the world can breathe easy.

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