I watched the US vs. Italy World Cup match yesterday. I’m not a soccer fan, but about ten years ago I worked at a company with a lot of limeys, some Irishmen, and a couple of Germans. So soccer was big there, but it never caught on with me. I even tried playing for two years on their company team. It just wasn’t for me.
My mind is pretty much one-track: I play one video game at a time (currently Baldur’s Gate II again), fixate on one aspect of improving my job at a time, and follow one sport at a time. On the rare occasions that the Cubs are still in the hunt at year’s end, the Bears are forced to play without my attention fixed upon them. When I started thinking about this posting, I had to think about the sports I liked so that I could rank soccer. Here’s what I came up with, along with a rough 0-99 scale of how much I like the sport (and the league I tend to follow the most):
Football (NFL)……………… 65
Basketball (NBA, WNBA).30
Soccer (FIFA, MLS)…….. 10
College sports (any)……… 5
Car-, boat-, or other vehicle-based sports 0
Snow-based sports…….. 0
Water-based sports…….. 0
Fake sports (poker, pool, bowling, etc.) 0
Punching- or fighting-based sports (boxing, Ultimate Fighting, “Karate Kid” Movies) 0
Animal sports (horse racing, cockfighting, bullfighting, Professional cat flagellation, Gerbil Gere-ing) 0
Pretense of competition sports (gymnastics, ballroom dance, wrestling) 0
As you can see, baseball holds most of my interest. With the lower-echelon (50 and below) sports I can’t even watch them unless I have a local or personal interest in the team (I may be in PA now, but Chicago sports will always be “local” to me).
You probably also noticed that there aren’t many sports that I DO like, which makes the amount of time I spend thinking about sports seem even more obsessive and/or depressing.
The US/Italy match, however, was thoroughly engaging and actually caught my interest in a way that soccer has completely failed to in the past. I liked the pace, the lack of commercials, the fan interaction, the core strategy (which I’m finally starting to grasp), and the way the US, down 2 players, and Italy, down 1 player, were both completely exhausted by game’s end. That made ‘em seem human; soccer is an incredibly draining sport and those dudes have superhuman endurance to play 90 minutes with just one break. So it was good to see them wear down.
I also liked what I saw from the US team. I’m not the most patriotic American — I had been rooting for the Czechs ’til that game just because I visited the country once and felt like I needed a team to root for. But the US team made me feel patriotic, because they represented something good to the rest of the world about our country. We became a great nation through the strength of our tenacity, aggressiveness, and underdog mentality. The underdog mentality goes away when the US basketball team represents our nation; they tend to play flat. When the US hockey team plays less than tenacious hockey and trashes hotel rooms in the process, we look like spoiled, underachieving brats to the rest of the world.
In this match, we WERE underdogs. Our team had half the talent of the Italian team, but they contested every possession, battled with all their energy, played like they had to out-hustle their opponents, and worked like dogs. Thus they put themselves in a position to take advantage of an Italian error to take a 1-1 tie. With one less player than the opponents for almost half the game, they hung in there. In doing so, they demonstrated the best traits of the American spirit.
It remains to be seen whether I’ll keep watching any soccer, but it just shot up to a 40 on my scale above, which means I’d probably rather watch, say, Germany vs. Ecuador instead of the Heat vs. the Mavs. It’d be a tough call if the Bulls were in the finals and the USA was into the field of 16, but the Bulls took care of that problem for me.