Kicking and Screaming
Sometimes bad is bad
The bane of American soccer is the 0-0 tie. Sure, I could give examples of how sometimes 0-0 doesn’t necessarily mean a boring or frustrating game. Then, as a counterpoint, I get to watch the most painful of games last week, Barcelona vs. Chelsea, in the Semifinals of the Champions League Cup, which pits the best clubs in Europe from last year against each other.
There were a multitude of complaints post-game from both teams…this team was too physical, that team was too whiny. Whatever the circumstances, the ultimate loser in the game was the fledgling American soccer fan.
ESPN does a great service by showing these games live. The idea of watching the best players and clubs in the world square off is a dream in any sport. Unfortunately, the world got to watch 90 minutes of offense/defense drills.
The 0-0 misconception about soccer is one of my favorites. Box-scores aren’t why fans enjoy sports. It’s the ride that you feel watching a game. I consider baseball a brutally boring sport, yet my fondest memory of a game was watching a masterful pitching duel between Bret Saberhagen and Jimmy Key in Toronto’s old Exhibition Stadium. I barely remember the game, yet can instantly say that it was one of the best sports games I’ve ever witnessed. A 2-1 pitcher’s duel, both pitching complete games. For the longest time I remembered the score being 1-0, and it didn’t matter. The game was a gem between two-top flight pitchers and two very good teams. If you live box-score to box-score, you will quickly lose interest in any sport…the only exception might be playing in fantasy sports leagues, where the box score can tell you everything you need to know about the game.
When thinking about ways that people can grow as soccer fans I always picture watching the best teams over and over. The World Cup is great, but it’s a 4-year anomaly. Being a fan of Brazil, France, or even Japan every 4 years won’t make you a super fan. It may get your foot in the door, but something has to seal the deal. That’s where the leagues come in: To enjoy the best soccer is to watch the best teams in the league. If I was going to become a super-fan in other sports, would I watch the NBA game, Memphis Grizzlies vs. Sacramento Kings? How about a football newbie watching the St. Louis Rams vs. Cleveland Browns? Unless you are from one of those 4 cities, you’re thinking the sport stinks.
And this is exactly why last week’s Barcelona/Chelsea game cost fledgling fans an opportunity to be excited about soccer. Rumored to be 2 of the top 4 teams in the world, some of the best players in the world were on display...ready to spread the soccer gospel. Creativity, continuity, speed, and heart-pounding chances were supposed to be right around the corner.
Then the teams took the field, and from the opening whistle, Chelsea’s yellow uniforms never left the defensive half of the field . Each of the 10 field players, and often the goalie too had one thing in mind…boot the ball as far away as possible. World class players were relegated to mindless clearances. Imagine playing basketball, and everytime you rebounded the ball, you rolled it to mid-court so that the other team could come back at you.
Early on, I was impressed with Barcelona’s attacking mentality. Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, was unstoppable, touching the ball during every attack. 30 minutes in though, it all changed. I prayed that a goal would come soon, because this attacking Barcelona team was starting to fray. Complaints, fake injuries, ridiculous coaching moves all started to accumulate. By 60 minutes, the game was over. Barcelona’s attacking was still there, but not as quick, and not as creative. Sure, they still could’ve scored 5 goals in the last 30 minutes, but I was resigned to the thought that they wouldn’t. By the end of the game, frustration set in. Picture those new soccer fans. All the talk about this tournament, about this game. Soccer in its purest and best form. And there it was, 0-0, in all its famed misery.