Monday, June 10, 2002

I woke up at 7:30 this morning to watch the US-South Korea World Cup game. We ended up tying, but I was surprised by several things.

1. Our team doesn't play the same way that others do. We get an A for effort, and about a C- for skill (compared with teams like Italy and Brazil, which get an A for skill but only a B- for effort). It looked sloppy, but our players kept hurling themselves in front of shots which was useful. However, what surprised me was the enmity the Koreans had towards us. Apparently they're still sore that some South Korean speedskater was disqualified in the last Olympics after an American protested. Eh, whatever. It's just the Olympics. Meanwhile, the Koreans played pretty dirty. There was some roughness from America, but the Koreans were tripping, pulling, and pushing the Americans all over the place. This kind of cheating has really angered me, since it seems to be the norm rather than the exception in professional soccer. In the house league I played in, this kind of stuff was rare. If you got beaten, you tried to catch up. You didn't do stuff gratuitously. Even when those [jerks] from the Saudi Academy beat my team 11-0, we didn't go around kicking them in the knees. However, I've noticed that kids who grew up playing in the hyper-competitive select (also called travel) leagues always played dirty. They had a lot of skill, but they never let that skill get in the way of a cheap shot. It was common for the parents to get warned and thrown out of games (by comparison, I can only think of three parents from my eleven years of house soccer who were jerks like that (two being married to each other) and one who was kicked out of the game for yelling at the referee for not calling a foul after a particularly brutal play that caused the guy's son to be taken away in an ambulance (our coach, in disgust, had us just leave and forfeit the game, since these officiating shenanigans had been going on all game). I'm not envious of the select players. I tried out for and made a select team, which I promptly quit. Since I'd proved that I could make it, there was no need for me to actually put up with these poor-sports. I can honestly say that I was never given a card, despite the fact that I played physically (I'm not that great at ball-handling, but I'm big and fast, so I had a sort of "moving wall" defense which worked very well and was prone to plays that weren't very hard but looked spectacular from the sidelines. Also, one of my favorite things to do was when a small forward (aka striker) was running but not looking where he was going, I'd move over to a place where he'd be running and plant myself, causing him to smack into me (it's his fault, since I was there first) and usually fall down. I don't consider that dirty play, since I didn't actually do anything to him, and it was his own fault for not looking where he was going and running into a spot I had claimed.).

2. I disliked the commentator. He seemed to be very anti-American, constantly making snide remarks. The one that most got me was when he kept calling Bruce Arena "America's winningest coach," you could almost hear him snickering off-mike. However, the color guy was a decent fellow, ranging from neutral to admiring our team for the sheer effort being put forth, since we were playing in Korea to a loud audience that was 90% Korean. The halftime analysts were even better, with great respect being displayed for how Team USA was playing. The game ended 1-1, but it was a good effort on our part.

3. Our team has an odd way of playing. The passing was sloppy, and the Koreans were faster and often bigger than we were. It seemed that we were constantly playing defense due to our poor passing, but through pure dogged persistence, we managed to score a very pretty goal. If we can learn to pass better, we'll be an extremely difficult team to beat. The color guy respectfully noted that with our huge population and diversity, we'll be unstoppable if we can ever find the eleven best players in America.

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