Wednesday, June 23, 2010

C'mon In Boys, the Water's Fine

One and one-half hours and 45 seconds of nerve-rattling theater.

That's how long it took for Landon Donovan's goal, probably the most important goal in the history of U.S. men's soccer. What happened in those 90 plus minutes defines both what is right about soccer and why the provincialists among American sportswriters, fans, and talk show hosts (Sean Hannity doesn't like soccer? Oh, the horror) are so wrong.

It was crazy, it was choreography, it was froth-at-the mouth exasperating, it was exhilarating, it was schizophrenic, it was sublime.

Not unlike a normal day, when you have a good day at work, but the drive home is stymied by some idiot driver (probably with an Ohio license plate on his vehicle), or are trying to finish the perfect project or paper only to be annoyed by a co-worker, or are making a brilliant argument in court only to be stopped dead in your tracks by an inane observation or simplistic question.

Unlike American football (which, by the way, I enjoy watching very much), so much of soccer is ungoverned and ungovernable. No instant replay, please. No excessive celebration penalties, we beg (okay, you get a yellow for taking off your shirt, but how many 15 yard penalties would the Saints get if they celebrated a touchdown the way the Slovenians celebrated a goal?).

Go ahead, keep the NBA, with its 100+ field goal attempts, 200 points, 50 personal fouls, and five dives/flops (yes, they do that in the NBA too) per game. Keep Major League Baseball, with its juiced up balls, juiced up bodies, and bandbox ballparks all introduced to score more runs and thereby make it more modern American.

Give me a game filled with uncertainties and foibles, where the most talented team doesn't always win and maybe a bad call does change the outcome. But where the players run for miles every game, play offense and defense (ask Tim Howard about that one) every game, and trade shirts with the opposition when it's over.

And, every once in a while, a game filled with 90 nerve-wracking minutes that ends in a single, exhilarating, jump off the couch, high-five, I-remember-when moment of complete joy.

America loves winners and loves winning underdogs even more. That's why it will be watching Saturday as we take on Ghana. But maybe, just maybe, during that match it will get a whiff of the ether that makes the game magical. As Delmar says in Oh Brother Where Art Thou shortly after he's been saved "C'mon in boys, the water's fine."

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