The Beautiful Game (for Foreigners)

Monday, June 16, 2014 | 0 Comment(s)

It's World Cup time on this planet of ours, and during this global sport standstill, I wanna take a second to discuss the most difficult aspect of the World Cup for me.  And let me begin by quickly pointing out it is NOT the soccer itself that has me befuddled.

Though, if you listened to any sports talk radio in the past 3 weeks, you would be sure it had to have something to do with how Americans just don't like, enjoy, understand, or appreciate soccer.  And the DJ's on these stations, to be clear, blame the game itself.

"Does anyone even play soccer growing up?," asked one particularly obtuse white male voice?

"I'm pretty sure lots of kids do play soccer as kids.  My daughter is in a league," says the slightly more informed colleague.

"Sure," the moron continues, "But when do they all stop. Cause they all stop. And why do they all stop?!" Answering his own question, "they stop because it is not a popular American sport!"

"I think most stop when they go to college," the voice of reason calmly explains. He continues, "I think that's when most people stop playing organized sports, when they aren't good enough to make it on the college level."

At this point, thoroughly having ostracized any listeners who either played soccer their entire childhood (myself and the vast majority of kids raised in New England in the 80's) or who happen to enjoy the world's most popular sport (also me), the two men launch into how "the beautiful game" lacks action and impact --which are what American viewers most appreciate (aka football).  They discuss how soccer is a finesse sport which requires its players to have an artful touch and masterful control of the ball -- concepts lost on an American audience which craves bloody calamity (soccer is the most dangerous sport to play by injury as well, but they don't talk about that).   Semi-enraged, I turn my radio off and settle in at a bar full in the middle of the afternoon, packed with people who care enough about soccer that with their free time they've come to watch Spain play the Netherlands.  No American flags in sight, just Americans.

I also have no problem rooted for my home team.  I am unabashedly excited for this afternoons USA World Cup opener with Ghana.  I hope we win.  I want us to win.  I care whether or not we win.  But, as our team's coach also pointed out, I'm under no grand illusion about the odds of the US side bringing home a trophy -- or even getting out of the group stage.

For most of my soccer loving peers, even the loss of their home nation isn't enough to drive their interest away from the proceedings in Brazil.  In fact, when I get a sneak peak of their viewing parties on Facebook, it is exceedingly rare to find even a single person wearing a USA jersey (from any year) while watching. Oh, they are all wearing soccer jerseys, just none of them are red, white, and blue.

Carlo, living in California, is sporting his Italia jersey. Ben, and his entire growing family up in upstate New York, are clad in the powder blue stripes of Argentina.  The Town of Amherst is noticeably spotted with the canary yellow of Brazil's old kit.  Even the dog at the bar I'm in has a tiny Mexican flag bandana tied around his cutie Chihuahua neck.

My point here is that it seems everyone but everyone has a second team that is the primary focus of their World Cup fandom. A team that usually has some connection (no matter how tangential) to their family's historical lineage.  This is where my problem arises.

The American Jewish Diaspora has a wholeheartedly shaky relationship with many of our "ancestral countries of origin."  Trademarked.  For example, I don't see myself shouting my lungs dry for the German side.  I mean, many of my family did "emigrate" from that country, but said expulsion is in fact the primary reason that I root against the German side.  Russia, same deal. Hell, if you want to get technical about it, you could include Spain, Italy, and even the Swiss in the Group of (Semitic) Death. And that's giving the Iranian team a pass for simply not being good enough at soccer yet.

So, considering my formal religion is no help in finding a second team to root for, I'm forced toward my less formal religion, video games.  Back in the early 90's when FIFA was putting out its first World Cup video game for the original NES, each nationality had its own special power kick.  The Dutch team would super kick the ball in such a way that it would move in a jagged line towards the goal, as if kicked across the front of Charlie Brown's yellow T-shirt.  The Japanese side booted a power lob that often would hit the back of the net from just over midfield.  But, no power move was more badass than Cameroon's.  If you managed a bicycle kick from anywhere on the field, the ball would swerve 90 degrees to the left or right, before stopping mid-air, and propelling itself post-haste into the opposing net.  God bless 16-bit computer programing.  Cameroon was unstoppable with this obvious advantage.  And because of their early Nintendo prowess, Cameroon is still the African nation I support during World Cup season.

But is that really enough? It seems like more of a rationalization for a team than a connection to one.  At the end of the day, perhaps I'll just have to be ok being a one-team man (better than a one-man team). And when the USA does meet its untimely demise, I'll go on choosing sides as I have so many years before: by their uniform colors.  (Go Ivory Coast!)

No comments:

Post a Comment