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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

The national pride in soccer crowds is refreshing.

An old dog learned a new trick: Enjoying soccer

Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? I'm an old dog, and I have now learned a new trick.

I like soccer.

Those are three words I thought would never pass my lips. I've spent over three decades loving youth soccer and thinking that soccer for adults was just a niche sport with nothing to recommend it.

I have changed, and the thing that changed my mind was when I found myself watching Euro 2012. I was wrapped up in the final between Italy and Spain even thought I had no idea who the players were. What I did was figure out that the very thing that a lot of people complain about is exactly the one thing that makes soccer intriguing and dramatic.

When you talk to the anti-soccer group – and I was a card-carrying member – the thing you most often hear is how boring soccer is because there is no scoring. Nothing to get excited about.

Now I'm beginning to understand the drama created by almost no scoring.

Think of great mysteries or thrillers that you have read. Books by Michael Connelly or Dennis Lehane or Jeffrey Deaver. These books are not constant mayhem. They build tension, page by page, interrupted rarely and occasionally by an act that surprises readers.

That's the thriller that is soccer.

Every goal is absolutely precious. When your team gets one, you savor it, guard it with zeal and hold your breath that your defense can keep the opponent out of the goal.

Soccer combines elements of chess and of fencing and basketball. You move, your opponent tries to block your move. You thrust, they parry. The ball switches direction and your coach hollers for you to get back on defense.

The players are fast, but the game develops before you at a speed that gives spectators clarity about the action taking place before them. It may be that the ball moves at a high speed but it doesn't seem like it. Contrast the movement and ability to see a soccer ball with the movement and ability to see a hockey puck. It's not even close.

I still think that soccer has a long way to go to become a major spectator sports in the United States. I think more people, especially children, play soccer than enjoy it as a spectator sport. Trying to compete on an even level with football, basketball and baseball seems a pipe dream of sorts.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a huge attraction to international tournament soccer. And there are so many wonderful things about it.

Watching those big soccer players walk out in line, each one holding the hand of a small child dressed in soccer uniforms. Seeing them line up and hearing them sing their national anthems at the top of their voices. No mumbling the lyrics. National pride on full display.

I used to think that the jingoist display of belligerent national pride of the fans was the hallmark of the game. But now I think it's the national pride of the players and that the fans and their fanaticism are an aberration.

I'm not going to be one of those who tunes into English Premier League or the MISL on television. I still find football, basketball and baseball much more satisfying.

But I am willing to concede that there may well be more than just a small element of truth to the sobriquet "The Beautiful Game."


KingK | July 6, 2012 at 6:42 p.m. (report)

Dave, next time you find yourself abroad be a part of one of those crowds. National teams or big time clubs it's one great experience. By the way, that ball is moving very fast.

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einstein | July 5, 2012 at 9:36 a.m. (report)

Slow news week, weather bored with Obamacare, so Begel decides he suddenly love that girlie game that no one with any taste in sports would pay attention to, let alone watch. Hope a better topic roles your way next week. Signing off Big Albert

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