Friday, November 15, 2013

An American Perspective on Why Soccer is the Best Sport in the World.

I am an American. I was born in the State capital of California to parents who were also born in Sacramento. My family has, for a long time, been Americans, once originating from the likes of England and Wales. I am proud of my heritage and I am proud to be an American. But we (America and I) have always disagreed about one particular thing- sport. I love sports. I love almost every sport. I love basketball, baseball (after all, it is the American pass time) and American football. I also like volleyball and tennis and hockey. There really isn't a sport I don’t like (unless you try to include “sports” that are actually just hobbies). But where America and I have always disputed is the fact that soccer is the best sport in the world. All sports where not created equal, and unlike the majority of my country, I believe in this simple statement; soccer is, above all other sports, the greatest display of athleticism, creativity and pure genius that the world has ever seen. 
Soccer, more commonly known throughout the rest of the world as football or “the beautiful game”, is a full contact sport consisting of two teams of 11 players facing off in the ultimate battle of strength, endurance and ingenuity.  At the turn of the 21st century, this game was played in 200 countries with 250 millions players, making soccer (or football) the most popular sport in the world. [Please note that I stated “the world” and not “America”, and we will get back to that later.]  Versions of the sport have been around for thousands of years. In 1863 the “Laws of the Game” were created by The Football Association in England but has since evolved alongside the game.  Now, the sport is regulated by the International Federation of Association Football (more commonly known as FIFA).  Might I emphasize briefly that the sport is so huge that it actually has an INTERNATIONAL governing body?  Okay, back to the issue.

I have spent all of my life involved with this sport. I played soccer competitively for 13 years. I've coached soccer and watched it my entire life. It becomes a way life- it is not just a game. As a player and as a fan, I have been enamored and enthralled by it since I was five years old. I am constantly perplexed by the lack of acceptance America has for soccer, when the rest of the world embraces it whole-heartedly. Why is that?  I haven’t really figured it out, maybe it has something to do with a general lack of patience or attention span. But I've been pondering and comparing soccer to the other sports, and it just doesn't add up. Maybe Americans just haven’t given it a chance. Maybe it’s viewed too much as a “grade-school” sport instead of the high intensity, blood-spattering war that it is

People always seem rather puzzled, if not bewildered, when they find out my favorite sport is soccer. After all, in their words, it doesn't compare in the amount of strength or physical contact to [American] football or compare to the excitement of basketball. In fact, most people were completely dumbfounded when they found out that last summer I drove 13 hours straight (about 800 miles) from Sacramento, California to Seattle, Washington to see my favorite English Premier League team (and the greatest team of all time) Chelsea play on their summer tour in America. When most people found out, they looked at me as though I were a lunatic. My love for “the world’s game” goes against the grain in America. 

But here’s why every other sport is unequal to soccer:

Soccer is all about endurance, creativity, possession, patience, strength, control, discipline, vision, and unity. A full match is two halves of 45 minutes equaling 90 minutes of play. There are no time outs. There are no breaks to decide on which play to run. There is no “offense team” and “defense team”, in fact, all players MUST be able to do both the entire game
There is no absurd number of points one gets if they score- you see, one goal is equal to one point, not 6. And the further you are from the goal does not increase the number of points for your goal, only the glory. Soccer is a constant sport of possession. The beauty is in the number of completed passes, the fluidity in which the ball moves across the pitch (field) and between all 11 players. You are not rewarded with possession, the stop of play or increase in "yardage" down the field just for a completed pass.

(Super Frankie Lampard scores from a free kick 30 yards out and get's the glory (not more points) of an incredible strike and helps Chelsea beat Tottenham 5-1 in FA Cup Semi-Final)

Soccer has one of the largest sports fields, at roughly 120 yards long and 80 yards wide, in which players are constantly running for a full 90 minutes. One break is given at half time. Tackling, while not head-on, is done so with minimal “padding” and must be executed perfectly or discipline (yellow cards/red cards) is required.

Yup, He just got kicked in the face...
And broke his nose...and kept playing. Because Clint Dempsey is a total BA
 If you think being tackled in soccer isn't painful, you've never taken a cleat to an ankle bone, had one smashed into your face or dug into and drudged down your thigh. But I have. In fact, if you don't think soccer is a "full-contact" sport, you're completely delusional. Keep in mind we don't wear any protective gear except one thin piece of plastic on both shins. I have broken my nose, broken a piece of my cheek bone, dislocated my jaw, dislocated both my shoulders on numerous occasions, broken all my fingers, some toes, bruised my ribs more times than I can count, have had more concussions than I'd like to admit, partially ripped my Achilles tendon and blew out both my knees. Every single one of those was from a collision with another player.  Soccer is not a "wussy" sport like many Americans like to say. 

Only 3 substitutes can be made the whole game. If all three substitutes are used and an injury(injuries) occurs or a player(s) is/are ‘sent off’ with a red card, the team must play down that many players for the remainder of the game, which means each individual player’s fitness and discipline are absolutely crucial. And the game goes matter what. You don't get "rained out" or even snowed out...why? Because that's how it is, you have to learn how to play through anything. Like the World Cup qualifier we played against Costa Rica in a snow storm. They has people on the sidelines trying to just keep the lines on the field visible.

You know, just playing through a BLIZZARD...

No big deal.
Soccer is about vision- it’s up to the players to be constantly re-working the ball across the field, with minimal direction from the coaches, as there are no time outs. Players must be creative in the way they keep possession of the ball. Every pass and every time they receive the ball must be perfect. [Note: Mastery of eye-foot coordination is much more difficult than hand-eye coordination.] All players, except for the goalkeepers while inside the penalty area, cannot use their hands or arms. Players must keep or steal possession of the ball with their feet, legs, torso/chest or heads, with impeccable accuracy might I add.
I think why Americans have such difficulty embracing the “world’s game” as their own is because of the low scores. A typical match could result in only 1 goal scored, between both the teams. But the beauty isn't just within that one goal; it’s the entire 90 minutes of play. Soccer is about perfection. Because it is such a low scoring game, every misguided pass, dispossession, and mistake, however minute, could very well cost the game. The fact that it takes sometimes 90 minutes to even get one goal does not discredit the sport or the “action” of the game, if anything, it brings more merit. Perhaps the inability to wait for that moment says more about the audience than the sport itself. 

Whatever it may be,  soccer is, without a doubt, the best sport, with the greatest display of athleticism, creativity and pure genius that the world has ever seen.  Maybe one day, America and I will see eye to eye. Until then, I'll be working on moving to London where I can watch the boys play at Stamford Bridge and be surrounded by people who understand just how amazing this sport actually is. 

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