Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Why the USA Really Won

Yesterday the USA was eliminated from the World Cup Soccer. Like many Americans, I was glued to the screen. I also suddenly cared about soccer out of the blue. Yes, I will admit most of the time I don't follow it. But the World Cup made me a fan. Suddenly soccer became my crack cocaine. Part of it was I like sports anyway, and would have watched regardless. Plus it was easy, because one of my jobs is I rant about sports for the Ranter app on iphone and Android. The most fascinating part was watching how soccer was played around the world, and how each country had different strategies.

Ghana played rough, and racked up a shit ton of penalties. However, they played with heart and determination that a lot of their pretty boy Euro soccer counterparts did not. Portugal had superb ball handling skills. Amazing, and they worked as a cohesive team with their offense, but their defense was kind of strong but not really. Germany was amazing defensively. So much so that their midfield and offense lacked. However, they resembled more of an army than a soccer team, filling in the gaps, refusing to retreat, and ultimately guarding their goalie. Algeria, like Germany, had a super strong defense. They were also great athletes all around, and had a strength everyone under estimated. And of course Belgium bored me and found me wishing for a team like Ghana, a team with character. But I will say, Orighi impressed me with his speed and ball handling skills. I walked away from those games not only wanting more, but respecting the game as a whole.

Soccer isn't big in America. Yeah, every high school and college has a team. It's not nearly as  big as football though. Good soccer players get respect, but not like football, basketball, and baseball players do. And as we all saw from the World Cup these guys are not softies. Clint Dempsey basically could not walk, he had a black eye, broken nose, and was still on the field playing. Thomas Muller had a black eye, I believe a leg injury, and a cut so deep it required six stitches and was still scoring most if not all the goals for Germany. DeMarcus Beasley had a chronic hamstring injury, but wasn't letting that stop him. And then one Algerian guy had a piece of gauze on his head the size of a sand dollar, probably because he had some cranial injury and his brain may or may not have been leaking. (The British commentators said this, not me). And he was out there fighting his heart out.

Football, basketball, and baseball players don't always have those guts or determination. While football is a brutal game, it is played with pads and gear. Basketball never gets this bloody, if it did the NBA would strike. With those injuries they could never pay child support. As for baseball, please they guys are babies and in my opinion the most borderline of the pro sports.

I remember in my hometown the boy's soccer team won the state championship one year. We were proud of them, and they were a gifted squad. However, no one focused on their accomplishments. The attention went to the football team, and the lackluster season they had. Rather than focus on the silver lining, everyone focused on the darkness our sucktacular football team brought. It was as if the accomplishments of the soccer team ceased to exist. Even in school, the football team were always considered the popular guys who got all the babes.

Soccer on the other hand, well, they got no women. Instead, they lived in near obscurity. Any win they had went largely ignored. To raise money for their team, their parents worked concession at the football games. Additionally, because football raised money for the weight room, they were forced to swallow this pill with a smile. These parents had to grin and bear it, knowing that while their sons were heroes in the fall, they weren't front and center although they were as strong and tough as the young men playing under the Friday night lights. Their sons were tall and lanky or short and spindly, not Alpha Males built like blocks. But this is America. Soccer is not big. I say this not only because this is true, but also because there was clear resentment on the end of the soccer parents.

Nonetheless, the football team was giving. Their presence and winning streak not only paid for the weight room, but they let the other lesser saluted sporting teams use it. They greeted their jock cohorts like brothers and sisters, not the vicious landlords as Hollywood portrays. Still, it must have been a bitch to be a shrub in this sporting musical.

My brother Wendell, my sister Skipper, and I played soccer. Wendell played until eighth grade, when he got too big and stocky and switched to football. He translated his skills as a soccer player into football quite well. Unlike many of his teammates, he had speed and was able to take punishment as well as give it. And while practices in the heat are not easy for any big guy, Wendell got through it more gracefully than many of this teammates. Skipper played soccer until she injured her ACL. However, like many soccer players, she learned pain management and somehow ran cross country while lacking a vital ligament in her leg for years. They were able to so these things because of soccer toughness. I on the other hand just sucked and knew when to get the fuck off the field.

The USA was once the laughing stock. However, we got quite far in this cup. Americans showed respect for this often overshadowed, over looked sport. These gifted athletes shined. They had their day. And we also began to understand that there were sports outside of football, baseball, and basketball that needed our attention. Truth be told, not every young man is going to shine on the grid iron, ball court, or diamond. Some might shine on the big green. And that's okay, because we need people there too. Fun fact, all the Euro players are dating or married to models. So sometimes on the big green, you can do quite well for yourself, too

So when summer comes to an end, and fall approaches, I will see the kids heading to soccer practice.  Some will be tall and thin like reeds, tripping over their own two feet as their body waits to catch up to itself. Others will be tiny, carrying water jugs that are as big and weigh as much as they do. Their parents will strap on the shin guards, and make sure the mouth protectors are fit to size. And then when their kid takes the field, they will cheer and hope that they don't get injured.

Instead of writing them off, my heart will warm a little. They are working and fighting hard. Finally in America, we realize these young men have a place and purpose, too. Like many a pee wee football player is a potential NFLer, they are planting the same seeds in little league soccer.

Perhaps one of these young men will be our next World Cup Superstar.

Come to my book signing
Thursday July 3
Don't Tell Mama
343 W. 46 st
12 dollars gets you in, and gets you a copy of the book
If you bring your book, get in for free.

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