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Friday, June 23, 2006

Soccer: Better Than Expected

I watched more soccer this week — and with more interest — than I ever have in my life. As the U.S. soccer team bowed out of the World Cup, I realized that “boring” is the wrong adjective to use in describing why the game hasn’t taken hold in our country. “Frustrating” seems more appropriate.

I don’t want to sound like the “ugly American” who scoffs at the world’s most popular sport. Just watching a few games allowed me to see the intrigue of the game. Working the ball up field takes plenty of skill and team work. Play around the goal is as exciting as other major sports.

Yet, I found myself incredibly frustrated, not by the lack of scoring, but the lack of scoring opportunities. It just took so long to get to the point where scoring was even possible, I wanted to scream at how easily the ball got knocked into the midfield.

No, I’m not building up to the suggestion that indoor soccer is the answer. I “got it” enough to see that the struggle to move the ball is the essence of the game. I even appreciate a soccer fan comparing it to American football.

I was genuinely disappointed when the U.S. team was ousted. I was at the point where I had made a point to watch Thursday’s game. That said, I doubt the game will ever compete with the popularity of other professional sports in this country.

The very reason that makes fans go crazy over each and every goal is what dooms the sport in America’s world of professional sports – they’re few and far between. On top of that, rules that allow a free shot on goal that almost can’t help but be game-altering or cause teams to be shorthanded for entire games just won’t compute for the American sports fan.

Bottom line, our desire to support anything American against the rest of the world might bring soccer into the minds of most sports fans whenever the World Cup rolls around, but that’s about it.

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