Monday, August 17, 2009

The Sports Guys opines on Mexico, soccer in the US

For those of you who are fans of ESPN's Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, he recently took in and wrote about the USA-Mexico World Cup qualifier at the Estadio Azteca.

Even though Simmons is not a knowledgeable soccer fan, the sport has been growing on him this summer, and he brings a nice perspective regarding the sport's place in US sporting culture.

As far as the match itself, it's always interesting to read about the experience of the fan at the game, as well as a before and after, and the Sports Guy certainly gives you a feel for what it's like to be in the Estadio Azteca and how nothing in American sports compares to the atmosphere of a game there.

Despite not being that knowledgeable about soccer (his analysis of the game is not quite correct in my opinion, and he doesn't address Charlie Davies' athleticism), he makes some good points I want to hit on.

First, he rightfully notes the long-known fact that only in the United States do the country's best athletes not play soccer. That is, until now. We see Oguchi Onyewu, and more importantly Jozy Altidore, and we see athletes who wouldn't look out of place playing next to LeBron or Ray Lewis. Certainly this will be key as US soccer looks to level the playing field with established world powers. Once upon a time, Eric Wynalda was the greatest US striker. Brian McBride added a level of strength missing before from skilled US attackers. Now Jozy brings with him tantalizing possibilities as we watch the 19 year old post up Joan Capdevila like he was Dwight Howard shrugging off Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Charlie Davies also marries true striker instincts with blazing speed not before seen from a US player. Landon Donovan is fast and can run forever like a Kenyan marathoner, but Davies has that extra gear that makes the defense worry every time he's chasing down a 50/50 ball.

However, the big point I liked about the article was how Simmons analogizes between Mexico's methodical, short-passing possession game (for which I'd use Spain as the example of, rather than Mexico) as the means of "building something from within and trusting the process," rather than "launching those 70-yard kicks downfield and hoping something happens -- aka the Beckham signing."

This is something I absolutely agree with. Soccer supporters in the US should not try to force the game upon people, nor should we be constantly hoping some huge moment (i.e., an upset of Spain, a deep run in the World Cup) will somehow be the tipping point and from that moment on soccer will be on par with football, basketball and baseball.

Building something like a true soccer infrastructure within the US sporting landscape akin to that of the other major sports will take time. The current generation of young adults and their kids will have grown up with MLS, EPL on Fox Soccer and now ESPN, the World Cup, and importantly, a continuously improving US national team. The Jim Romes of the country have less impact than before, and much of their unabashed distaste for something foreign to them will not be passed on to future generations. Practical reasons will also boost the game's popularity, as HD TVs allow viewers to really see the game and appreciate the beauty of the teamwork and athleticism on display. Not to mention that like baskeball, soccer can easily promote not only teams (or in the case of the EPL, the league as a whole) but also its stars individually because the players are visible and recognizable on the field for the entire game, unlike football stars, who are hidden behind helmets and play only a percentage of the entire game time. Furthermore, MLS players are more akin to NHL players in being accessible and relating to the common fan.

Simmons notes that the "most interesting thing about last week's game wasn't whether the U.S. won or lost, but that so many Americans were furious that they couldn't see the game." We've come a long way to reach that point, and that's something we shouldn't lose sight of.

No comments:

Post a Comment