Soccer is called "the beautiful game" by the millions of fans who follow it like a religion, both in America and around the world.
I’ve never understood the phrase until Saturday night when a remarkable confluence of events gave me a kind of clarity about soccer I never had before.
Late Saturday afternoon I saw the movie "Pawn Sacrifice," the story of Bobby Fischer, the greatest chess player America has ever produced and one of the best the world has ever known. It was a powerful movie and had high-drama scenes of chess matches between Fischer and the best players in the world.
AFter the movie I came home and watched the United States play Mexico in the CONCACAF game, trying to earn the right to go to Russia for the Confederations Cup, a practice run for the 2018 World Cup.
And I was struck, especially in the second period, how similar soccer is to chess.
Garry Kasparov is a grandmaster and former world chess champion. What he said about chess, it seems, could apply to soccer as well.
"Chess is mental torture," he said.
He might have been talking about soccer.
Chess is a game where thinking and the metal demands are high level. You probe, and pull back, you adjust, you probe again. Your opponent defends, responding to what you do then holding firm while you ready your next attack.
Chess is a game of patience. You move with deliberation and wait, wait, wait for a crack to appear and you try to slide through it.
That sounds an awful lot like soccer, especially in the game between these two rivals.
Each team scored one goal in the first half.
In the second, Mexico controlled the ball, minute after minute. Moving it around the perimeter, waiting for an opening to show up. The American team was in full slide mode. When the ball was on the right side the Americans slid to that side, then back to the middle then to the left. You could see the American side beginning to wear down.
MAs the clock ticket you got the feeling that a score by Mexico was imminent. But as so often happens, both in sports and in chess, the defense held stout. The two teams played a 45 minute second half without a goal and went into extra time tied, 1-1. Mexico scored first, the U. S. came back, and Mexico scored in the 118th minute to win the game.
I have never played soccer. But I’ve played chess since I was a little boy. And it wasn’t until Saturday night that I realized how intellectual soccer is. It’s so interesting that I have begun the process of learning more about it.
And there is no shortage of information, from American writers to writers from all over the world. One thing that struck me after the game was how many experts were writing about the failed administration of Jurgen Klinsmann, the German who is the coach and the technical director of U. S. Soccer. The technical director is responsible for the big picture and creating high level development programs many other countries have.
Grant Wahl, the Sports Illustrated writer who is regarded as the best in the world, raised the issue of Klinsmann.
"In light of the U.S. men’s national team’s on-field direction in the 15 months since the 2014 World Cup, culminating in a fourth-place Gold Cup finish and in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, it’s fair to wonder if Klinsmann should also be the senior national team coach. Should he just be the U.S. technical director and stick with that?"
The whole soccer thing, who is in charge of what, remains a mystery to me. The head of U. S. Soccer says Klinsmann’s job is safe. He has two years remaining on his contract which pays him $3 million a year.
But, unlike chess, you can feel the drumbeat for a change in coaches and that vote of confidence for Klinsmann is, well, a vote of confidence.
We all know what that normally means.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.