Monday, June 30, 2014

New Soccer Fans - how to continue the rush

I heard a really honest set of comments on the radio the other day, and I think it offers quite the discussion topic.

Some guys were on a local sports radio show, talking about how they are into the USA at the World Cup, but they aren't really "soccer guys" and they aren't really sure what to do next. The clearly get the fantastic experience this is (and after watching Jones' goal v. Portugal, how can you not be?), but they don't have any context for how to continue things.

They mentioned the rush of a goal, with the kind of detail that made it clear they really really do "get it." Specifically, they said that rush is like nothing they have ever experienced in the sporting world, and how can you argue differently? It is the rush of a Game 7 NHL Sudden Death goal, but you get it every game.

When explaining what it is like to be at a World Cup, and how draining it is, I have been known to tell people it is like the Super Bowl every four days, and THEN you get to the knockout rounds...

Bottom line, it was obvious that the Kool-Aid was definitely flowing through their veins, that they were Victims of The Disease. Now the question is, how to make the most of it.

To be fair, they were honest in their hesitation about both MLS and European Football. Frankly, that is why I struggle with being a fan of an EPL team or whatnot. I have supreme respect for the players, level, etc., but I am not as emotionally tied to them as I am to FC Dallas. In that way, I guess I am more of a fan than a student of the game... Oh well.

For MLS, they talked about the level of play, and surely, there is MLS and then there are some levels before you get to World Cup soccer. There is just too much at stake in the World Cup, etc., for one thing.  Second, MLS has been a going concern for 20 years, not 100+ like most other major leagues, both within the US and outside it. The average American player - the lifeblood of the league - still has work to do to improve.

But that is not to say there aren't things worth watching, especially now that FC Dallas is ranging between 15,000 and 20,000 a game for just about every game now. You have a clear "soccer atmosphere" at those games, including the amazing fan response when a goal is scored.

Add in players like Mauro Diaz (may he get back on the field soon) and Raul Fernandez, and you have real top-level skill. 

So it IS worth it to make it to a game, but that isn't the end of it.

The real trick is this - you have to start learning the game. I have said this before - if you are a baseball fan, you understand the difference between a curve ball and a slider. As such, baseball isn't just a boring game of catch. (Love the baseball traditionalist who says soccer is boring yet turn around and swoon over a pitcher's duel....) Like baseball, you need to learn what makes soccer work - how do you get to those huge highs when a goal is scored? Hint - it will make that high all the more intense.

How do you do that? For some, play the fantasy league game or play FIFA from EA Sports. I know a number of people who got deep into the league once they knew the players and what made certain players more valuable than others. For others, pick a player and follow him during a game - and try to figure out if you could do that.

And don't back away from getting frustrated about how things go - that is part of the madness. In fact, it is the frustration that makes the joy of a goal all the more intense. Frankly, that is why baseball people tend to buy in more, and quicker - because they know what it means to succeed through high levels of failure. Seriously, baseball celebrates as amazing people who fail seven out of ten times! So a forward that fails to score on seven of eight opportunities but scores the game winner - simpatico!

Exciting stuff. And for those of you new to the sport, welcome! For those who have been in the sport for a time, please help those new to the sport - you know you had silly questions when you started into the sport, so help those like you were helped.

Oh, and enjoy USA-Belgium!

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