(don’t watch this yet! read first, then watch…)
If you know me in real life, you know that as much as I live and breathe music, sports has always been far more important to me. With my dad’s British upbringing, soccer logically became my first sport and growing up, I must say, I was pretty talented (and equally modest…or not). As I got older and more immersed in our country’s sports culture, I was drawn to the major US sports and eventually basketball edged out soccer as my top choice. I put the cleats away, laced up the high tops, and ended up playing small college basketball down in Los Angeles. Nothing glamorous, but it kept me busy and shoot, there aren’t THAT many people who can say they’ve made the NCAA tournament! *cough* Division III though *cough*
After graduating, I returned to Seattle and while I’ve enjoyed playing in the Puget Sound Basketball League, I’ve had a lot more fun playing for a few soccer clubs up here. Perhaps it’s a little sad, but the two games I play each week are often highlights that I look forward to when I’m bored with the monotony of my day job and music work. It’s even at the point now where my basketball games are cool…but I’d rather be on the pitch.
Alongside my own playing, I’ve started following professional leagues around the globe, really buying in completely around the 2006 World Cup. Not only does it provide the obvious entertainment, but I find something really important in maintaining a regular connection, albeit fairly superficial, to the rest of the world. It’s sickeningly easy for Americans to forget that societies exist outside our borders (and are comfortably passing us by), so by following leagues in Europe, South America, and Asia, plus the international clubs from the rest of the world, I’m actually exposed to a good bit of culture and news I’d otherwise miss out on. Plus, it provides a nice escape when the sports media (hi friendly employer!) and all my friends talk about the same stories. Trust me, I’m up on all the happenings in basketball, football, and baseball, but watching/playing soccer allows me to follow stories that most people I interact with simply haven’t heard.
Naturally, this leads to the awkward existence of the US soccer fan. There are more of us than ever before. The MLS and US Men’s & Women’s teams are more popular than at any point in history. We are a legitimate player in the soccer world, but admittedly, we are nowhere near the top. Thanks to our size and economy (assuming we still have one in a few years), we have potential to join the top tier, but we have a long fight ahead. Americans are generally either apathetic to the sport or they foster a strangely antagonistic, and not so subtle jingoistic, disdain for it. There’s nothing that angers a non-soccer fan more than hearing how it’s the most popular sport in the world.
What does all this rambling have to do with the video posted above? Well, Francis Coquelin’s excellent performance as a defensive midfielder for Arsenal in their recent loss to Tottenham epitomizes why the average US sports fan doesn’t really like soccer.
Watch the video above. I’ll wait.
Ok, so what did you see?
6 minutes of “nothing special,” right? No thumping headers, athletic bicycle kicks, or Bend It Like Beckham-esque free kicks. Hell, you didn’t even get a goal! Instead, just a great deal of industry, grit, ingenuity, vision, agility, strength, speed, finesse, and calmness that displayed almost everything you want from a player in that position on the pitch. Granted, the youngster made a few poor touches and distributed some loose passes, but overall, it was the lone bright spot in what has become a shockingly poor season for Arsenal. In all fairness, it was far from what a top defensive midfielder is capable of, but it still underscores my point.
If you can’t appreciate a performance like that, you’ll never truly love the sport. If your eye can’t spot the subtle adjustments necessary for a positive first touch or the instinctive movement to create the right passing angle, you’re going to be awfully bored while you wait for the goals to come. If you’ve been brainwashed by our highlight driven society, you’re missing out on the building blocks for those incredible moments in the Top 10 countdown.
I’ll even go one step further, and likely anger some of my soccer loving friends at the same time. If you haven’t played the sport and tried to do what these guys make look effortless, you don’t fully understand the beauty of soccer. Yeah, I know…that’s pretty self-righteous, but I feel it’s true. Fans are quick to jeer when a free kick is ballooned in to the stands, but how many hours have you spent trying to hit the upper 90? If that number is high, you have a better understanding of what the player has attempted. Fact. Trying to curl in kicks from FIFA doesn’t cut it.
I don’t expect this rant to convince any non-soccer fans to give the sport another try and in fact, it may have the opposite result. That’s fine though. I view soccer similarly to how I view hip-hop. Either you’re in it and you live/love/breathe it, or you’re not.
You don’t have to be, but for those of us who are, seeing a young kid like Coquelin deliver such an impressive performance in his 2nd EPL start reminds us of an amateur MC stringing together a few bars brilliantly in the middle of a solid verse. Not enough to blow you away but just enough where everyone in the room felt it at that moment…like “yeah…that part right there?…that was it.”
It can be whatever you want it to be. Just don’t try to tell me what it is to me.