UEFA? You betcha!

Posted: June 6, 2012 by terryvandrovec in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

There’s a pretty huge sporting event on deck. No, it’s not the potential clincher of the Stanley Cup Finals. Or the deciding games of the NBA Conference Finals. Or the back half of the French Open.

That stuff is going on, too, but it’s not nearly as important as the kickoff of UEFA Euro 2012. At least, that’s what we’ll be told for the next three weeks by soccer snobs.

If you’re unfamiliar, this is the European championship of nations with players suiting up for their home countries rather than their regular-season clubs. Think of it as a miniature World Cup just for Europe minus (maybe) the ridiculous locales and rigged bidding processes.

I will watch it – not all of it, but definitely a life-altering chunk. Soccer is one of the few sports in the world where you’re required to have an official stance and this is mine. I pay attention during the top international tournaments: UEFA Euro, the Olympics, the World Cup, etc.

I don’t pretend to mine the transaction wire ever, let alone on a daily basis. And I’m pretty OK with that, even if soccer purists may not be. For some unknown reason, futbol wonks have a reputation for being unwelcoming, of projecting, “Keep up all the time or not at all, limey bastard.” At least, that seems to be the perception amongst casual fans. To be fair, I can’t remember being hit over the head with a bottle let alone chided for my intermittent devotion.

You have to be a major soccer star to pull off the faux hawk/stylized mullet combo

And why exactly do we (meaning me) follow intently sometimes and not at all the rest of the time? Myriad reasons.

I never really played the sport, so there’s no personal investment. National pride only comes into play during certain events, and the U.S. men have never done well enough to merit everyday support. My sports calendar is already too full.

Timing is a part of it. Pretty soon, the sports abyss will be upon us. Soccer is a nice alternative to not watching baseball.

I think I like the drama and the style of soccer more than the game itself given that it’s closer to baseball than hockey in the low-scoring sports pace’o meter. The international aspect makes it seem smart and sophisticated, although the 7-out-of-10 theory (look it up, if you must) means plenty of dullards dig it, too. Makes it feel like a real world championship instead of the kind that implies, we, the U.S., are the world. That does wonders for tennis, too, a sport that I did play (unspectacularly well) yet am prone to ignore for months at a time.

Soccer is also good for your vocab, introducing words like boots and pitch, while exposing us to superior English slang. Yes, superior. There’s a reason the language is still called English rather than being changed to American. Those Brits can turn a phrase. There’s more to them than bad teeth and accents. (Full disclosure: Austin Powers taught me everything I know about the U.K.)

The players are a mix of gigantic stars and borderline weirdos. To wit: Soccer unofficially is responsible for the feaux hawk and the stylized mullet. That is clout. There are compelling pretty boys (Cristiano Ronaldo) and compelling toughs (Wayne Rooney), a growing tattoo scourge and coaches wearing garish suits.

Yes, international soccer events are spectacles – they probably have to be in order to capture the attention of the hyperactive American. To that end, coming to enjoy big-time futbol has done next to nothing in terms of my interest in the domestic version. I’m not sure I’ve watched even one second of an MLS game.

My indifference could be an important point in terms of growing the game. That is, instead of trying to force us to enjoy a pro league that even novices know is second rate, why don’t the guardians gear all of their efforts in the U.S. toward publicizing the international majors? Then again, maybe they already do; I wasn’t really paying attention.

Something sure seems to be afoot as more and more folks on my Twitter timeline seem to be paying attention to, say, the English Premier League on a regular basis.

Now could be the latest best chance for soccer to make a play on the American public, while our version of football is steeped in a concussion controversy. It stands to reason that moms and dads are more willing than ever to steer their seed toward a seemingly safe sport like soccer. Heck, maybe soccer would even consider banning the header in an attempt to directly challenge football for the loyalties of fear-stricken parents and athletes.

Either way, I’ll be watching … until I won’t be.

  1. Jon says:

    Take a look at the results of this ESPN survey: http://i.imgur.com/tEJgV.jpgS

    Pro soccer is the second-favorite sport of 12-24 year-olds in America. Almost one in ten people 12+ describe themselves as an “avid” fan of international soccer, and 7% are avid MLS fans.

    What I want to take issue with is “the latest best chance for soccer to make a play on the American public.” That ship has sailed; soccer has already made its play. It’s here. It’s the fifth major sport in this country, even though MLS may not yet be a “major” league in America.

    • That’s an interesting stat. Where there remains a difference is probably that by being international-centric, soccer doesn’t yet grab the temporary interest of the non-diehard sports fans in America – the kind that only tune into Super Bowls and such. I guess that’s the next frontier.

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