Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Sports Guy: "We will always have the Algeria game. Always."

I love it when Bill Simmons writes about soccer, as he did again today. Is anyone better at creating or addressing sports/cultural  talking points?

Now, everyone who knows soccer knows that Simmons doesn't know soccer well, at least yet.  Whereas before he either admitted as much or made really obviously stupid comments, he's slowly getting better.

For instance, he's gotten good enough to immediately know that starting Clark over Edu was a huge mistake before the game started (he even tweeted about it at the time), and he makes the occasional smart analogy - this time comparing Jozy Altidore to an NBA center by questioning whether he has a little too much Dwight Howard and not enough Pau Gasol and needing a striker with speed and innate goalscoring ability (Gasol = Klose).  Of course he still gives it away with comments like "How can you screw up a team with superstuds like Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez on it?" (easier than you think) and "The theory that soccer would never catch on until we found our own Pelé or launched our own successful pro league was dead wrong."

The first half of the latter comment is true, but his dismissing of the importance of a pro league is wrong.  Maybe he's right insofar as he's probably thinking of a "successful" league being on par with the NHL or NBA or NFL.  But having a league was important because it creates a culture where soccer is at least there, even if not everyone is watching it.  More importantly, you can't advance the US team without there being a domestic league for players to start in, to change the youth system, and to give kids a thought about playing pro realistically.   Only six players on the roster never played in MLS at some point.

Reading Simmons singing the praises of not just the World Cup but just soccer in general is encouraging, and his article really takes off in the last couple paragraphs where he talks about the US team being one of the few things nowadays that all Americans can get behind.  In particular, there's a somewhat stable cast of players you can grow with and there are ongoing games between cycles (unlike the Olympics).  He compared the US-Algeria game, that collective moment really, with nothing we've been given since Lake Placid (before I was born).  While not quite that level, it was impressive nonetheless, and he's right -- those YouTube clips don't lie and we'll always have Donovan's goal against Algeria.  Even the ongoing sting of the lost opportunity last Saturday can't take that away.

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