Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I wonder if the commenter who said that he was not going to come back to this site after he figured out that I write about soccer (the 161 posts regarding "the Other Football" must have been confusing to him) is now going to boycott Bill Simmons. A couple thoughts on a very strong piece:

1. I think the correct analogy for Mexico's playing style is not a football team that controls time of possession with a brutal running game and a short passing game. Mexico's tempo is faster than that. At least when playing at the Azteca, El Tri seem more like a football team with an excellent defense that forces a lot of three-and-outs and then runs a no-huddle on offense. They didn't strike me as playing a very deliberate game last week. They're more the Saints with a better defense than they are the Giants.

2. I quite liked this paragraph describing the reaction to the winning goal:

I will remember the reaction afterward: Complete and utter delirium. Everyone just threw whatever drink they had as far as they could. It was like watching a new Pixar movie called "A Snowstorm of Drinks" crossed with a full-fledged prison riot. Then and only then did we realize exactly how much that game meant to the Mexicans. As Hopper said right after the final whistle (Mexico 2, USA 1), "I guess the upside is that we're going to live."

The one sports experience that I can remember that was similar was Charlie Peprah's interception return for a touchdown for Alabama against Georgia in 2002. Peprah's TD was the second Bama TD in quick succession that turned a 24-12 deficit into a 25-24 lead. I've never seen a scene quite like that. Drinks flying everywhere. Noise like you wouldn't believe (amplified for us by the metal overhand right above our heads). I'll always remember looking at my wife and the two of us exchanging looks of utter disbelief at the anarchy going on around us. And two possessions later, Georgia drove down the field and Billy Bennett kicked the winning field goal.

3. I'm not buying the following paragraph:

The good news for U.S. fans? Our boys hung for two hours in Mexico without disgracing themselves. The bad news? The defeat reinforced some basic problems with our soccer program. We have only a few world-class players (Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu, Clint Dempsey and goalie Tim Howard) and lack a franchise guy who could swing any game, even one being played in Estadio Azteca. For instance, I watched Sunday's Liverpool-Tottenham battle, and Steven Gerrard was so ridiculously, dominantly good in so many different ways -- some overt, some subtle -- that I couldn't get over it. He makes difficult plays seem effortless; you never forget he's on the field. America doesn't have anyone like that. Just like in basketball, you can't win championships in soccer without a LeBron/Kobe-type player.

I watched the Spurs-Liverpool match on Sunday and Gerrard was mostly peripheral because Liverpool miss Xabi Alonso pinging the ball around behind him. It was not a dominant Gerrard performance because he lacked support, thus illustrating the fact that soccer, moreso than basketball, requires that the entire team function in order for a superstar to dominate a game. There are few soccer equivalents to a LeBron single-handedly winning games for his team.

4. Amen to this:

Whatever happens, the stars seem to be aligning for soccer in the United States. Subtle factors have made soccer a potential breakout sport for the next decade: high definition; few commercial breaks; games that almost always end within two hours; improved camera angles; increased exposure to international play; a generation of adults weaned on the 1994 World Cup; even the near-death of passing in basketball, which led people like me to gravitate toward soccer simply because I miss seeing telepathic connections between teammates and will take it any way I can get it. I don't think I'm alone.

I have the same thoughts on passing. Maybe it's a result of watching the Gretzky Oilers during my formative sports years?

5. Did you ever think that you would read a Red Sox nut like Simmons type the two sentences that conclude the piece?

As for the Mexicans, they averted a national disaster and reignited their Cup chances. On the way back to our hotel, driving in our bulletproof car, we passed under a bridge on the highway and noticed one lone Mexican man happily swinging a flag back and forth. He had to have been 45 minutes from the stadium. There was nobody around him. He just kept swinging that flag with a joyous grin on his face. I remember thinking to myself, "Nobody in America will ever care about a sport that much." And we won't.

Me neither.


Ryno said...

Michael - I can't remember a Simmons piece I enjoyed as much as this one.

It's frustrating because it shows what he could be if he quit reference the NBA every other article and if he laid off the "Teen Wolf" jokes.

Mabee said...

I am sorry you watched that LFC-Spurs game it was awful at least from my perspective. LFC can't compete to stay in the top half of the EPL if they continue to play like they did in the first half yet alone compete to win it.

Unfortunately until Aquiani (sp) gets fit LFC won't have anyone who can control the midfield....Unless Benitez bites the bullet and drops Gerrard in the midfield and lets Benayoun fill the hole.

Michael said...

As a casual Spurs fan, I enjoyed the game thoroughly. Either L'pool is weak through the middle or Huddlestone and Palacios are terrific. It could be a combination of the two. You are really lacking a creative guy in the middle. The lack of any verve from the midfield, combined with Babel being a total waste of space and Kujt being Kujt, meant that Gerrard and Torres were isolated.

chg said...

My only quibble is his contention that the passion of Azteca can be found nowhere in American sports. You can't find it in pro sports, but it can be found in the SEC. If Ole Miss or South Carolina were to ever win a BCS title, you would see people just like that old man on the overpass in towns and cities throughout the state.

This was a title game for Mexico. I was in the country when we eliminated them from the WC, and I actually felt sorry for many of the Mexicans. On the way home, the cabdriver said, "You have everything else... just please let us have this."

I couldn't help but feel for him, because it is only a matter of time until the US unquestionably surpasses Mexico. That night in 2002 was the first time average Mexican soccer fans were beginning to realize it.

If they had lost, it would have not only likely killed their shot at an automatic spot in SA, but would have perhaps irreversibly wounded the national psyche. Personally I think we have already surpassed Mexico, but the important thing for the people and fans of Mexico is they don't think we have. As the sport gains more attention and fans in the US, it is even more significant that Mexico continues to win in Azteca.

This match was their chance to keep their automatic qualifying hopes alive, and let the world know, 'Maybe it is going to happen someday, but it's not going to be today.'

chg said...

Given all that, I think the passion is about what I would expect. It's also nothing foreign to an SEC fan.

thirdfalcon said...

What makes soccer so compelling to me is that it has the same level of passion of college football, but your watching world class athletes instead of a bunch of college kids with 4 or 5 world class athletes sprinkled in. It's the best of both worlds.

chg said...

I think you see very good athletes who are world class performers, not world class athletes. I certainly think that is true with USA-Mexico, and I suspect it is likely the case for many highly rated NT's around the world.

I am much more impressed by displays of breathtaking soccer skill (Donovan's magic goal against New England) than "athletic" plays like Eddie Gaven's run for the most recent MLS goal of the week. The placement of Donovan's goal with his off foot literally left me momentarily speechless, followed by a simple "wow." I see Gaven's run (five minutes after he was subbed in) and think, "Man, those defenders sure are slow."

I suspect the skill position guys at a quality SEC game would outperform the 22 starters in Azteca on a soccer specific SPARQ test.


Who would have the higher average score on the above test: the 22 from Azteca or the starting QB-RB-WR-DB's from this fall's Florida-LSU (or Georgia-South Carolina) game?

If we ever get even a quarter of our top tier athletes to focus on soccer as their number one sport, we will be a perennial World Cup heavyweight.