Monday, June 28, 2010
Driving eight hours home after three rather severe drubbings doesn't make for pleasant conversation or ebullient spirits. But all that comes part and parcel with the enthusiastic cheerfulness following three good wins. Tournaments can only promise a few participants that they will be elated at the results of their efforts. So we returned to the hotel after the last game for a quick shower and a long ride back to Wisconsin. The showers didn't go so well since during our entire three day stay we had never gotten new towels. Teenage boys have not yet developed the specialization skills that go with hanging up a wet towel after use to allow it to dry. Instead they pile the towels one atop the other in a mountain of terry cloth retaining moisture and whatever else might be trapped within the folds. I knew that my room still had two dry towels, so between the three boys in Robbie's room they managed to get showers and dry off.
Two things helped the ride home. The first was being able to listen to the Brazil – Chile game on radio and the second was listening to the heated discussions before, during, and after the game. In fact the discussions did more to stimulate conversation in the car and invigorate the boys' defense of their sport than any post-game pep talk from a coach. Brazil beat Chile…that outcome was about as safe a bet as one can make in soccer. But it was still fun to hear the runs, the shots, the fouls, and the goals translated into word pictures by a very animated by Tommy Smyth who invests as much of himself into the commentary as he does the facts of the game. He's the kind of guy that you either love or hate. There's no middle ground with Tommy. He loves the game, and that shows through, but he's also irascible like a footballing, mischievous troll. When you hear him call a game, you can't help but be drawn into his opinions and pronouncements. Everyone ends up commenting, arguing, and laughing. It made the ride go smoother!
Before the game, at half-time, and after the game, people call in who seem to believe that because they have heard of the World Cup or know how to pronounce ""soccer"" have opinions that real soccer fans would find fascinating. The sad thing is that I do find them fascinating, but not in a positive, enlightened way, but in a morbid, gloomy way like looking at the cow with two heads pickled in a jar. Most of these callers spit at the concept of soccer as a sport America will embrace. They argue that soccer isn't growing, that the spike in interest for the sport created by the World Cup will diminish quickly with the end of the event. But empirically I have to disagree. We just attended a tournament that celebrates the growth of youth soccer in America to over 3.2 million players, just days after the largest US audience for a televised soccer game (19.4 million) had watched Ghana defeat USA, we are in the midst of a bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup in America chaired by none other than Bill Clinton, and here we were passing car after car on the roads in Indiana and Illinois with soccer stickers in the window. These are empirical facts. Furthermore these talking heads have the audacity to argue that soccer is boring because no other game ends in a 0-0 tie with teams celebrating that outcome, while they overlook the tactics and shrewdness that even a tie offers in a tournament such as the World Cup. Plus they don't seem willing to hurl the same accusations at a basketball game that takes thirty minutes to complete the last two minutes of the contest as the teams attempt to manipulate the outcome by controlling the clock as well as the shots.
I enjoy having my blood boil. It gives me a similar thrill to watching my boys play soccer and execute a cunning, successful run or snag a ball that seemed destined to score. This weekend I got to see plenty of plays develop, some in our favor and unfortunately many not. I got to watch players play because they love the game. I saw them rally after a bad loss to go back onto the field and try again. I witnessed team spirit as they supported one another even in defeat. These moments could never be boring. Talk to any parent whose son or daughter played this weekend, and boring will not enter the conversation. Maybe soccer's audience won't surpass those of football, basketball, and baseball, all quintessential American sports, but I know soccer is growing. I saw it this weekend. I see it every day in commercials, on fields, and yes, even within the disgruntled arguments of the soccer haters. Why bother hating something so insignificant? Unless, of course, it's actually beginning to challenge you.
Home again…looking forward to the next adventure. I'm jealous of all the families who will continue to enjoy the US Youth Soccer Association Championship Series and those who have yet to experience it. From breakfast with bleary-eyed players to jubilant or petulant rides back to the hotel from the fields, to late night pizza parties, to forming good friendships I know how much bigger than a game these tournaments are. They will be a strong source of memories, motivation, and character throughout the players' lives. We survive the lousy outcomes and we savor the best results. But we all have to ride back home and return to studies, jobs, and chores. Soccer does shine than dim, but its light never goes out, ready to flare up again.