The recent World Cup Football (pronounced soccer) match between Portugal and the US was one of the most highly watched events in ESPN history. In fact, more people watched the match than watched the recent NBA or Stanley Cup finals.
It even beat out the season finale of Dancing with The Stars.
So does this mean that soccer has finally arrived as a popular spectator sport in America?
Probably not, but where world-class competition and national pride are concerned, the World Cup can’t be beat. I mean, how can you not actively participate as a beer-drinking sports fan in an event known for riots and hooligans?
For years soccer (pronounced football) has been much maligned in the US as a spectator sport. The game has been perennially knocked as being too slow and boring for American tastes.
Clearly these detractors have never sat through a major league baseball game.
But despite the low scores and propensity for draws, soccer can be tremendously exciting.
For those of you who were watching Sixty Minutes on Sunday night because 90 minutes was too long, let me give you a minute by minute recap of the game:
5 minutes: A lot of sweaty guys running around kicking a ball. Portugal scores!
64 minutes: A lot of sweaty guys running around kicking a ball. US scores!
80 minutes: A lot of sweaty guys running around kicking a ball. US scores again!
90 minutes: Time expires but referees decide to indiscriminately add 5 plus minutes of time on the clock because they can.
95 minutes: A lot of desperate sweaty guys running around kicking a ball. Portugal scores tying the game!
95:30 minutes: A lot of sweaty guys running around kicking a ball wondering what just happened. Game over.
OK, maybe this doesn’t capture the true excitement of the match. But it is hard not to be riveted by the athleticism and stamina of world-class athletes running full out in ninety-degree temperatures with humidity just shy of a rain forest, maneuvering a ball with their feet.
Many of these premiere athletes can also do this while chewing gum!
Truly American sports like baseball and football are often referred to as “ a game of inches.” Soccer, quite literally is a game of feet. Which is ironic given that most of the world is on the metric system.
If you ask me, playing a game that involves a ball without using your hands is like trying to play Monopoly without money. But I get the appeal of handicapping players to make a routine game more exciting. It certainly explains why people play Charades at parties.
So it would be inaccurate to say victory was within US grasp since the use of hands is illegal, but Portugal snatched victory from their feet by scoring something called an equalizer with a header into the goal.
I always thought an equalizer was a cup of coffee after a long night of drinking. In World Cup lingo, an equalizer is a goal that ties the score, thereby restoring natural order to the game.
A header, by the way, is a concussion waiting to happen
There are some other interesting aspects of the game that make the World Cup well worth watching.
For high drama, you can’t beat flopping. Flopping , also known as diving, is when a player becomes badly hurt in an un-witnessed transgression by an opposing player. A successful flopper writhes in agony on the field but miraculously recovers by the time his team takes an undeserved penalty kick.
In contrast, an unsuccessful flopper earns a role in a Fox TV sitcom.
To control the game, referees sometimes issue a Yellow Card. This is a penalty card the referee holds up when someone has committed a foul or the opposing player has convincingly flopped. The referee can also give a Red Card. The difference between the two is the color and whether or not you ever see the player again.
In contrast, a Green Card is given to foreign athletes who play in the US.
And what about those goalies (pronounced keepers) and their breathtaking saves? Their colorful shirts easily rival those worn in professional golf!
I will be watching breathlessly from a bar for 90 plus minutes as the US takes on rival Germany to move from the Group of Death to the Round of 16, and each team struggles titanically not to lose in the last 30 seconds. You see, given that this is the World Cup, theoretically both teams could advance simply by not scoring.
But that just wouldn’t be cricket – another sport I don’t really understand.
And so, as we skip work and cheer on the US team to yet another ESPN ratings record, just remember this:
It’s not whether you win or lose, its how you tie the game . . .
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