Why the World Cup is Awesome, Even if You Don’t Know Anything About Soccer

I imagine that I am not all that much unlike many other Americans at the moment in that I know very little about soccer (sorry, football) and yet at the moment I’m trying to pretend that I’m obsessed with it.  Except I’m not so much pretending as I am actually becoming actually fascinated and interested and a little bit mouth-foamy over it.

Seriously, I cannot pull myself away from the games.  If the USA is playing, I’m watching.  This is deeply and personally important even though I’ve never particularly cared about soccer (sorry, football) in my life.  (Also, full disclosure, I coached middle school soccer for a year and yes, I am probably more invested in these games than I was in those.  Something about watching from the air-conditioning from my home instead of the sweltering heat of the sideline, not seeing my team (yes, actually my team that I actually coached) get trounced 6-1 just makes it more enjoyable.)  But if I happen to catch another game on, I’ll watch that, too.  My wife gets frustrated — “you never watch soccer, you never talk about soccer, what is this all of a sudden??” — and I find myself saying things which might be true, like “well since USA won their game, they might meet the winner of this match down the line, and I want to know what they’re up against.”  Because, naturally, team USA needs me, the average schlub, to know what their potential opposition might try to pull so that they can hopefully stop it.

There is something infectious about it, though, soccer (sorry, football).  It’s one of the strangest and most natural sports I’ve seen.  Strange because the pacing of it is off the wall.  Seriously, televised bowling has better pacing.  Ping-pong is more predictable.  Soccer (sorry, football) is twenty minutes of dinking a ball around a field that really is just too big for anything that isn’t motorized followed by ten seconds of frenetic, heart-pounding mouth-foaming blood-boiling couch-stomping action.  But it’s incredibly natural because it simply flows like melted butter across piping hot pancakes.  Nobody has to be told what to do.  Things don’t have to be explained, reviewed, argued, discussed.  The game just happens and continues to happen until a goal is scored or until somebody gets their knee dislocated, but even then they only stop for maybe five minutes.  True story: I was at a football game — college football game, mind you, not the World Anything — and a player was injured.  Okay, injured player, that’s bad news, but the action was stopped for thirty minutes while a parade of coaches, trainers, officials, and I think even the player’s scholarship official ran on and off the field seeing to this kid.  Thirty minutes!  The soccer (sorry, football) game (sorry, match) is half over by that time!

I should mention, also, that I’m watching most of the games on Univision, and if you’re not watching the games on Univision, you’re missing out.  Okay, the real reason I’m watching on Univision is because I don’t have cable and ESPN has a stranglehold on the broadcast rights, so I’m boned otherwise.  But seriously, watch the games on Univision.  Or at least flip over now and then.  I don’t understand a word of what’s being said, and I don’t pretend to.  It just sounds like a couple of guys — I picture that guy, “The Most Interesting Man in the World” from the beer commercials — and another guy in a mariachi hat for some reason — discussing what might as well be politics over cigars in some dive bar, and then all of a sudden one of them is jumping on the bar, throwing his headset across the room, and shouting GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL and so am I, thrashing around my living room like some mariachi marionette.  (Seriously, how awesome is that little turn of phrase: mariachi marionette.  I don’t care, I’m kudos-ing myself for that one.)

As an endurance athlete…

Okay, sorry.  I had to pick myself up off the floor from the laughing fit that calling myself an “endurance athlete” induced.  As a practitioner of an endurance sport, let’s say, I have tremendous admiration for the soccer players (sorry, footballers).  You can’t watch these guys trot back and forth across that field (sorry, pitch) which might as well be a well-manicured airstrip without having a sense of the tremendous training and physical prowess they possess.  The kind of endurance that, well, let’s just say my wife would have a worse laughing fit than I just had if I compared their endurance to mine.  The kind of physical prowess that… god, you get the idea; let’s just move on, okay?  Jeez.

A thing occurs to me in watching these games, though, which is that I think I know why soccer (sorry, football) hasn’t taken off with American audiences (outside of the World Cup of course).  It’s the flow.  There are no stoppages, no timeouts, no ten-minute breaks to warm up a new pitcher.  We Americans are spoiled by the ever-present commercial break in which we go to the bathroom, grab another beer, serve up some bean dip, flip to another station to check the other game… whatever you do during the commercial break, you can’t do it when you’re watching soccer (sorry, football).  Because you never know when the sharknado is going to break loose and you’re going to have to throw a chair through a window because team USA just gave up the win with less than a minute left in stoppage time even though they had the victory completely locked up, I mean SERIOUSLY, did we just forget to play DEFENSE there at the end or WHAT!??

Er, I got sidetracked.  So yeah.  It’s not that American audiences can’t handle soccer (sorry, football).  It’s that the game itself doesn’t lend itself to standards of American advertising, which keeps it off the air because there are more profitable things the networks can air.  (If you thought networks were in the business of providing content to their audiencess, you were sorely mistaken.  Networks are in the business of providing audiences to their advertisers.)

But we’re a bright people.  Certainly one of us can come up with a way to stick some commercial breaks into the middle of a soccer game (sorry, match).  Mandatory three-minute water break when a new player comes on the field (sorry, pitch).  Mandatory review with commercial break every time the ball goes out of bounds.  Ten-minute explanation with graphics and holograms anytime offsides is called (seriously, if you can explain offsides in a single sentence that makes sense, you deserve a mariachi marionette).

So?  Get to it.  I’m back to watching some FOOTBALL.