The (Sometimes) Soccer Fan Who Knew Too Little
For all of its flaws, FIFA sure knows (Or is it FIFA sure know? All rules of subject/verb agreement seem to go out the window when we are talking international soccer.) the right time to schedule a soccer tournament to capture the sports consciousness of the United States. Baseball season has been here just long enough that the novelty has worn off, and we are finally without the winter sports playoffs to keep us occupied. What, exactly, as someone asked me earlier this week, would we be talking about if it were not for the World Cup?
The answer, of course, is All LeBron All The Time – the Summer of LeBron Part Deux. Thankfully, soccer is here to save us – though it has put me and presumably others in the awkward position of not knowing a damn thing about the prevailing sports story of the summer.
I might be slightly exaggerating when I say that I don’t know anything about the game or the tournament. Mike Francesa, this week on his WFAN talk show, asked if there were soccer players who kick with both feet (he was probably trolling). So, I am not entirely ignorant, willfully or otherwise. I am, however, oddly clueless when trying to strike up water cooler conversation with someone at the office.
In the course of a typical sports conversation, in an elevator, or wherever, I can offer an opinion or fact, not sound like a dope, and let that be it. For instance, if someone sees the Ernie Banks bobblehead on my desk, he can say, “Cubs fan? They’re terrible again!” To which I might reply, “They sure are, but at least they have Anthony Rizzo!” And we can take it from there.
In the case of soccer, I know just enough to be dangerous to myself. I know who most of the US players are, and some of the better international players. I have my trusty stereotypes about nations and teams that can indicate to me who has a chance to advance in the knockout rounds. But when push comes to shove, I don’t know what the hell I am talking about.
I certainly have opinions about Jürgen Klinsmann’s beliefs about what would constitute a successful World Cup, or his decision to leave Landon Donovan off of the roster, I just have no idea whether or not they are defensible. This does not mean that I am afraid to share these opinions, however. (I will be modifying this paragraph in the future should I decide to apply for the position of soccer analyst at ESPN. I have no doubt I would at least get an interview.)
So I thank you soccer, FIFA, and the World Cup, for giving me this great tournament to get all excited about since I can’t celebrate a third Stanley Cup in five seasons for the Blackhawks this summer. But most of all, I am glad that I can enjoy a month of sports in which I don’t really feel like I need to be an expert to get a ton of enjoyment from the games. I realize that I am missing plenty of the finer points of the sport, but the game is incredibly easy to understand at its most basic level. Couple that with a natural rooting interest (USA! USA!) and I’m happy to accept the label of bandwagon soccer fan once every four years.
Sadly, I can see how this ends – with a crushing loss to Argentina in the quarterfinals, sending my soccer fandom into hibernation for the next 47 months. Of course, I am SURE that the U.S. will take care of business against Belgium – I will irrationally cling to every one of my soccer stereotypes until each is individually proven wrong (and perhaps beyond that point – it’s the American Way, right?).