Emily has turned me into a soccer fan. In particular, we’ve been watching the English Premiere League season for the last several months. We added the Fox Soccer Channel to our cable line up, which brought in a ton of soccer on the TiVo. Emily is more into it than I am, but I think I must have seen 25 or 30 season games since August. I’m getting to know the team playing styles, the player names and personalities (at least on the teams I pay attention to), and, of course, the rules. It’s the first team sport I’ve ever cared anything about. Aside from professional tennis (and really, just the grand slam tournaments), it’s the only televised sport I get any enjoyment out of watching.
Aside from the 25 or 30 Premiere League games this year, I’ve also watched last summer’s Confederations Cup, a bunch of World Cup qualifiers, a handful of international friendly games and a bunch of UEFA Cup games. In this process I’ve learned some things…
1. I have a hidden reserve of nationalism I never knew about.
During the first half of last summer’s Confederations Cup final, I actually screamed and threw my hands into the air when the US scored its second goal against Brazil. If I’d been in a crowd that was chanting “USA USA” I’d have joined in, unironically. This nationalism also led me to (subconsciously at first) root for Everton in the Premiership because Tim Howard (the US national team goal keeper) is their keeper and because LA Galaxy (and US national team) midfielder Landon Donovan was on loan to the team for a chunk of the season (and the Everton fans LOVED him, frequently chanting “USA – you must stay!” whenever he did something great on the pitch). This nationalism does not, however, prompt me to watch any Major League Soccer here in the US for two important reasons: US teams just aren’t as awesome at the game as European teams are, and US sports announcers are fucking awful.
2. I’m watching soccer at a really interesting time in the sport.
First of all, World Cup (which comes only every four years) starts in less than a month and my team (USA, per my aforementioned new-found nationalistic pride) is on the rise as a serious world class team, having taken second place in last year’s Confederations Cup in South Africa (basically a trial run for this summer’s World Cup). The US team is still a second tier team, but with a squad featuring a number of really strong players, and it has proven itself a team to take seriously in recent years. A good showing in South Africa next month could really elevate the team’s status on the world stage.
Secondly, Leo Messi. He’s a striker for Barcelona and an Argentine national and at 22, he’s already one of the best players the sport has ever seen. Seriously, I can watch a spate of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United games, representing the best that the Premiership has to offer, and as impressive as those players are, Messi just outclasses them all. Every time he touches the ball (which is a lot) he does something incredible. His ascendancy in the sport will be fun to watch.
3. Goals are exciting, but it’s the midfield play that makes the game beautiful. Really great one-touch passing is a thing of beauty.
4. US sports announcers are fucking awful. I mentioned this above but it’s worth repeating. I’m realizing my deal with televised sports might actually be more of a deal with the standard sports announcer style here in the US. Why are they yelling at me? Why can’t they just talk like normal people? What are they so angry about? They’re typing in all caps and makes my brain hurt. Someone needs to break that mold fast and throw out the style book in that industry. Yikes.
5. A lot of soccer players have really bad hair. Emily just reminded me of this one. We like to play a game wherein every time a player gets a close up, we decree his hair as either “good” “bad” or “meh.” The “bads” are way ahead in that score. Seriously, what is up with Bacary Sagna’s hair?