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A Møøse once bit my sister ...
I watched quite a bit of Ghana-Germany at the gym this afternoon. I am trying, really trying, to get over my natural dislike of this sport that we (and only we) call soccer.

There were plenty of opportunities to get past it, many of them back when we lived in Rochester, a longtime hotbed of the sport for both genders.  Back in the first 1970s wave of US soccer craze- well, more like a mild neurosis- Rochester had an NASL team that faced the likes of Pele and the other New York Cosmos at a near-condemned stadium that almost collapsed from the wild crowds.  After the current US incarnation of "major league soccer" came along in the early 90s, Rochester began fielding a majorly supported team at the first level below, known as the Rhinos, which actually beat several MLS teams to win the sport's officially highest national title, the open-competition known as the US Open Cup, in 1999.  When the US hosted the World Cup in 1994, many televisions (including that of my then-stylist Salvatore) were turned to the matches, and not just to the host team's.  And for the past decade, Rochester native Abby Wambach has been the most famed of the second generation of US Women's National Team players (perhaps tied with Hope Solo, but her hopes just took a hit earlier today with some nasty domestic violence charges).

I should like this, then, right?  I know; I have the prejudices against. Domestic sports honks belittle the "beautiful game" with references to orange slices, Capri Sun boxes and surrounding the stadium with minivans.  And, until ESPN got in bed with FIFA to air the games a few years back, their talkers did exactly the same, but as soon as the World Wide Leader had skin in the game, they suddenly gave it a bunch of cred. Hockey remains the only major sport effectively banned in Bristol.

Ah, hockey. Another reason I should relate to these contests. The basic rules are parallel: forward-line players attack, back-enders defend, the goalie has much more latitude in terms of touching and distributing the object of the game, and there's near-constant action. If anything, I should see soccer as a beautiful blend of American football and hockey, and like it even better because there are no bullshit TV timeouts or two-minute warnings or endless replay reviews.

After close to an hour of Germany-Ghana, though, I'm convinced that the conception of "Assoc" was actually a gruesome threesome- of the NFL, the NHL, and the DMV. Because so much of this sport is in your face with a "that's the way we do it, take it or leave it" attitude that it obscures much of what I would, I think, otherwise truly like.

I won't even get into the distasteful aspects of it that don't really affect things in the games or in the standings- like hooliganism, or FIFA's monumentally corrupt culture that wound up awarding the next two future World Cups to Russia and Dubai (the latter ridiculously hot, the former ridiculously unsportsmanlike).  Rather, these are my beefs with the things that count, all of them witnessed in this test match from today:

Through 40 on-and-mostly-off-years of exposure from NASL to Rhinos to Womens Olympics, I know the basic rules, including the two 45-minute halves. Except they never are. I watched as G & G traded goals in the 50-70 minute range to get it to 2-2 (and curse you, ESPN, for displaying those goal totals in some weirdly shaped and colored font that I could barely read), and then final 20 ticked off quickly to keep it there. Only there we were, at 92, 93, still going with no clue as to when it would end.

This, apparently, is considered normal. The referee has sole discretion as to how much time to add to reflect injuries, out-of-bounds incidents, penalties, and for all we know the need to pick a wedding gift for the other team's midfielder. In a recent development, the ref is supposed to share this magic number with the rest of the world with about a minute left in each half, but ESPN, at least, refuses to show it- because even that number is not final. Yes, there can be extra time within extra time.  So there is no countdown to victory but rather a somewhat anticlimactic realization, once this irrational number has been reached, that the game is over.

Some of you know (and some of you aren't "you" because you didn't like me complaining about this) that I detest in-speak. I know it from work, where "old boy" courts tend to freeze out n00bs by tossing around specialized lingo that makes the non club members feel out of place and stupid.

Soccer, to me, is such a club.  It's not a game but a match. "Nothing" means nothing; you've got to say "nil." The same field that might host a baseball or NFL or lacrosse game tomorrow must be called a "pitch." And never, ever, use the T word; one plays to a "draw."

Come on, guys. You've already sacrificed the name of your sport to local sensibilities. Let us call a tie a tie and a field a field without getting all snooty on us.

Then there's the whole sister-kissing ennui about these highly emotional, nationalistic matches (ding!) ending without a victor. It almost becomes part of the strategy in early World Cup rounds to play for one point, or two, depending on what that does to your prospects. Amazingly, Brazil, host of this year's tournament, gets to do exactly that when given a tomato-can opponent for its third match; knowing the results of earlier events, it gets to play with its Cameroonian food and choose either Chile or the Netherlands for their first "knockout" game.  That's where, suddenly, draws don't happen, and the matches are played to their natural thrilling finish in sudden-death style like in every other major sport.

Kidding. No, they're settled with a shootout round of penalty kicks, which is like deciding a tie baseball game by holding a home run derby.  This isn't kissing your sister; it's having to do her laundry for a month.

I could take the uncertainties of time, and the strange language, and even the aversion to final outcomes, if the sport had an air of impeccable integrity about it. Yet it doesn't. Those referees, who have such potentate-like power over injury time and ejecting players? Are chosen by national federations and, as recently as the South African-based Cup a few years back, were implicated in match (ding!)-fixing scandals where you could practically "follow the money" as it fell out of the wheelbarrows of their remote villages where  the bookies made the drops.  Speaking of "drops," there's that word that rhymes with it that's an essential part of the onfield culture: "flops." Ghana-Germany ended with two players- one from each team- writhing in pain on the pitch (ding!). Sadly, the proceedings had ended, so we didn't get to witness their miraculous recoveries mere moments later. Now maybe these guys truly were hurt, but there's so much crying wolf out there on an almost-every-game basis, you half expect "Hungry Like the Wolf" to play on the stadium sound systems every time.

(I won't even start with the music this year- a big to-do over the "official song" by J-Lo and Pitbull, which pissed off an already-rioting Brazilian population for not being Portuguese enough, leading to the christening of something else as the tournament's "official anthem." Maybe there's still time for me to be named the 2014 World Cup official curmudgeon if they haven't already given it to Jim Rome.)

Yet despite all that? I'll probably watch Team USA tomorrow night, and root root root for my country. I just have no idea for how long.
7 comments or Leave a comment
warriorsavant From: warriorsavant Date: June 22nd, 2014 03:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Panel comparing soccer (yes, I wrote S-O-C-C-E-R) player to hockey player:
Soccer player: pulls a muscle, gets carried off the field, spends 5 months in PT.
Hockey player: gets concussion, gets back in the game.

Allowing for humorous exaggeration, it does get to the soul of the difference between the two games. I'm not a sports fan, I do sometimes (rarely) watch hockey; soccer never.
xiphias From: xiphias Date: June 23rd, 2014 12:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Look, if a soccer player pulls a muscle badly, gets carried off the field, and spends months in PT, that's fine.

But flopping is just EMBARRASSING. And I think that North America is the only continent that doesn't do it. Southeast Asia tends to be pretty good, too. But I just don't see the US or Canada flopping, and I feel totally embarrassed to see other players doing it.

As far as I can tell, the point of flopping is to be able to lie down for a couple seconds to catch your breath. Which, given just how aerobically intense soccer is, I think is reasonable. But it'd be a lot less embarrassing if people just sat down, did some deep breathing exercises to get their breath back, and got up again.

In soccer, you're in constant motion from one end of the game to the other, basically. American football has only about 15% play time: after a play, the ball's whistled dead, the teams re-set, choose a play, and then when ready, start a play which averages a ten seconds. Then there are several minutes in which everything is again re-set. The one hour of an American football match takes 3 hours from beginning to end, and the ball is in play for 11 minutes on average.

The 90 minutes of a soccer match tend to take just a shade over 90 minutes, of which the ball is in play for about 60 minutes.

That means that American football players are sprinters, and are about explosive short-burst power, while soccer players are marathoners who are giving out effort for much, much longer periods of time. And THAT, I think, is why flopping -- because the players are looking for an excuse to rest.
warriorsavant From: warriorsavant Date: June 23rd, 2014 12:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Wasn't aware of the phenomenon of "flopping," (not following sports) but makes sense as you describe it. However I was comparing soccer to hockey. True, less constant motion (they do reset the play, and switch off players), but the motion is incredibly fast, since skating not running.
xiphias From: xiphias Date: June 23rd, 2014 12:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Even more than the skating-not-running thing is just how much smaller the play field is. It's, like, what, a tenth the size? Making it ten times as fast.
warriorsavant From: warriorsavant Date: June 23rd, 2014 12:59 am (UTC) (Link)
About twice* but point taken.

*Hockey 61 x 26 m
* Soccer 100-110 x 64-73 m (Yes, FIFA allows variation. Don't know why.)
xiphias From: xiphias Date: June 23rd, 2014 01:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Okay, I'm exaggerating. A soccer field is a shade over 3 times the area of a hockey rink. So the game's only THREE times as fast. And then, yeah, hockey players skate at about 28 mph while soccer players run at about 7 mph, so that's a factor of four.

So, on average, hockey is twelve times faster than soccer.
ellettra From: ellettra Date: June 24th, 2014 05:21 am (UTC) (Link)
Well yes, and there is some strategery to the theatrics as well, besides just resting. There are plenty of faux dives in American soccer though, certainly in the MLS. The Timbers Army has a very enthusiastic chant of "NO PITY IN THE ROSE CITY" when someone falls down on our pitch. :)
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