Friday, May 23, 2008

Why soccer will never catch on here

For those few of you who are reading this so far, my apologies for the lack of posts. No Internet and looking for a job have cut into my time. But here we go again.

On Wednesday, the European Champions' League final was held. And what happened is why soccer will never catch on in the US. First, a little about the Champions League. It takes the top 2 teams from each major soccer league in the Europe (by country) and pits them in a tournament for the biggest championship outside of the European Finals. This isn't done by country, its done by team.

As an example, say the top 2 teams in MLB, the top teams in Japan, in the Caribbean League, etc were to get together in a Champions league. Its not played as national teams, but by the individual franchises.

So this year, it was Manchester United and Chelsea, playing in Moscow. Both from the UK. Think Red Sox-Yankees being the final two teams, playing in Madrid. I'm not picking on the Yankees, Jason, just seems the best reference.

And it ended up 1-1, after regulation. Think a 9-inning game, where Manny/A-Rod (the biggest star for either team) hits a solo hr in the 4th to go up. Then in the bottom of the 9th, Drew/Abreu hits a hr to tie it and go into extra innings.

They play 4 extra innings and nothing happens. So, by rule, they have a home run hitting contest to decide the champion, where every player gets one swing, for the first 5 players. If the game hasn't been decided by then, they keep going through the lineup.

And the fence is moved into 120'. Its not really showcasing the best at this point, as everyone is kind of expected to hit a home run. Its a championship based on who fails the most, by hitting a grounder or a popup that doesn't carry. These things always end 5-4, or 6-5, or 7-6. Its not the guy who hits one out who is the hero, its the guy who fails to who becomes the goat.

So, in this particular game, Man U and Chelsea go into penalty kicks. Think Manny/A-Rod being the 3rd guy up and missing. Not supposed to happen. They're supposed to hit the hr, but they miss. That's not an A-Rod joke. Just an analogy.

So the score is 4-4, and there is one last player to swing. They alternate, by the way. So Varitek/Posada (the long-term, really veteran, leadership type guy) steps up and misses. And you keep swinging. And then at 6-5, you get a Lowell/Giambi type guy up, who has the power, and you would think its a gimme. But they hit a line drive right at the pitcher and the game is over and the championship is won by the team that didn't miss the most times.

I'll admit it carries a little bit of excitement in it, about the same way a home run hitting contest, or a free throw shooting contest, or an extra point kicking contest is exciting. Someone wins, someone loses, and we can always conjure up drama out of anything. But this is why, in my semi-humble opinion, that soccer will never catch on with true American sports fans. There's no walk-off home run allowed, no 3-pointer at the buzzer, no Hail Mary with no time left on the clock. As Americans, we want more from our champions than an skills contest at the end.

Soccer's not a bad game, and I'll be watching a lot of it in the future. My daughter will probably play, and I might even try to find some adult league to play in, just because no one plays softball here. But at the end of the day, I still could care less about it. Because champions should be decided on the field, during play. Not after the fact.

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