Popping Your Soccer Cherry

Ronaldo_unionPhoto: Zimbio- Drew Hallowell, Getty Images

Two years ago I was a virgin. A soccer virgin. Then I went to the Real Madrid-Union match at Lincoln Financial Field and decided to become a full-time fan. I haven’t looked back. 

Reader Mike requested that, with the dawn of the new EPL season, I should write a casual fan’s guide to the league. Which is what I will do. In the Greenwich meantime, here is my post from two years ago, when I wrote about my first time.

I didn’t know what to expect.

It was my first time and all I knew was that most in the world are obsessed with it. The unadulterated passion that evokes far-ranging emotions and actions, the primal instincts it brings to the surface — they’re all present.

It was warm. A little too warm, in fact. Not knowing what I was getting into was the toughest part. Would I be left for the better after having experienced it? Or will it send me into a crazed, pseudo-obsessed frenzy, one whose roots extended well beyond my professional life and deep into my personal existence?

I’ve never really come close to giving it a chance. Sure, all my life, in my 28 years, I’ve danced around it, and I have, on occasion, flirted with it. You can’t help but wonder: if it’s so good for so many people, what am I waiting for?

I plowed ahead.

There would be no turning back now. My heart began to race a little. Flutter, even. Beat beat. Beat beat. It was a nervous excitement that could only be likened to the feeling of giving a keynote speech in front of a room full of admired peers. So much could go right… far more could go wrong.

I kept going.

Breathing heavier and heavier, I felt a bead of sweat drip down my brow. I wondered if I would even last. I was already melting and this certainly was an activity that applauds stamina.

I had read so much about it. Knew the basics, but understood very little. It’s like drinking alcohol for the first time, really. Everyone knows what sort of experience he or she wants to have, but not until you do it a few times — for several years — do you really get the hang of it and come to know what you can and can’t get away with. When you first start drinking, everything seems like fair game: Frangelico and Coke? Sure, why not? Vodka and apple juice? You bet.

Quickly you learn those concoctions lead to a date with the sad side of a toilet seat and everything you thought you knew about becoming a pro, an adult drinker, was incorrect.

That’s sort of how I felt as I was on the precipice of succumbing to my desires. I thought I would be able to make a killer Tom Collins right off the bat, but somewhere deep down inside, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Not tonight.

As I pressed forward and saw the menacing facade of Lincoln Financial Field surrounded by throngs of Hispanic Real Madrid fans wearing clothes and hairdos I did not know, I knew this experience was going to change my sports fandom. For better or worse.

I pushed forward.

I didn’t play much soccer growing up.

Like most, I played baseball (through my junior year in high school). I also played basketball (through eighth grade) and hockey (through high school). I only played soccer for a few years. My career ended at the conclusion of second grade, mostly because they were splitting the boys and the girls up, and my crush, Janine Deluzio (sorry, I may have just weirded somebody out big-time), would no longer be on my team. Like a room full of hairy and muscular legs to a neutered dog, soccer was of no use to me.

And therein lies the problem: It’s hard to truly understand and appreciate a sport if you didn’t play it — or weren’t at least surrounded by it growing up.

That’s what happened with football. I’m 27-years-old, 6’0” and 165 pounds… you can imagine what my body was like at age 10. The gridiron was out of the question. Thankfully, growing up just outside of this wonderful city, the sport was never far off. It became easy to learn the game, its formations, and its players, mostly because of the Eagles. The release of Madden, around the same time, only made it easier to understand the game’s intricacies. Video games get shit on a lot in our society, but — especially when it comes to sports — they are tremendous learning tools. Just play MLB: The Show for one game– you’ll quickly come to understand the strategy that goes into making a double-switch. Hell, Charlie Manuel didn’t even know that until 2007.

But there would be no such experience for soccer. Sure I played some FIFA. However, those of you who grew up with a Sega Genesis know that the strategy in that game’s forming years consisted of two things: shoot and slide tackle. A and C.

A and C.

That’s hardly a way to learn such a refined sport.

Before 900 cable channels and 16 ESPNs, it was hard to even find fútbol on the telly. There was no local option, either. The Kixx don’t count. My only real tangible experience with the sport was following the exploits of Pat Burrell (later A.J. Feely) and Heather Mitts. I can’t imagine that’s the right way to gain an understanding for the game — though Mitts’ pitch is a landscape on which I wouldn’t have minded fussing around.

Now here I am. I want to learn.

Last year, for the second time in a row, I truly enjoyed the World Cup. Perhaps it was because ESPN jammed it down our throats the way Eddie Valiant jammed a hard-boiled egg into Angelo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The sport is just made for HDTV. Soccer pitches are immense and a large part of them are in play at all times. Unlike football and baseball, where you can generally predict the play or quickly focus on the area to which it’s moving, soccer can see its focus area quickly shift 50 yards in an instant. Basketball and hockey are much the same way, but the playing surfaces are significantly smaller. Soccer needs HD.

It wasn’t just Landon Donovan’s goal that got me on the bandwagon, either. I truly enjoyed the game. Perhaps too much.

Once the World Cup ended, I tried to watch a Union tilt on CSN. I lasted about three minutes.

You see, imagine going from watching the Four Aces pitch on consecutive days to watching the Lakewood Blue Claws on public access television. The sport is played under the same name, but it’s different. It’s way different. The drop-off was too steep for me. I gave up.

Last month, I had no interest in watching the Women’s World Cup. None. If I didn’t like MLS, I surely would have no interest in watching women (have you seen the WNBA?). I didn’t see one second of their amazing comeback win against Brazil. Not one. But being the frontrunner I am, I certainly wasn’t going to miss the next game.

Five minutes in, boom: Alex Morgan. Hooked.

Alex_morgan

Like most of you, I stuck around for the final against Japan, which was perhaps the best PR the sport has received in America since Brandi Chastain took her top off: well played, exciting and a joy to watch. Perhaps now I would give the MLS and the rest of the sport a fighter’s chance. My rationale was simple: Since I didn’t just watch the best, fastest and strongest players on the planet (the men), it might be an easier transition to the rest of the sport, which included both the elite and the mortals.

Philly_soccer

As I entered Lincoln Financial Field, I was equal parts excited and frightened of what stood in front of me. One of the last things you would expect to see inside the gates of Philadelphia’s football stadium is a group of Spanish fans wearing capes and mohawks singing songs about Nacho Libre, or something like that. This was certainly going to be a different experience. For the first time in my life, I felt like a clueless hipster walking through CBP commenting to folks about how fast “Shane Victoria, the Flying Samoan,” looks. Would these fans throw batteries at me, or would dickish bloggers just write about me in some melodramatic prose about coming to discover a new game?

I quickly realized that my last-minute seat purchase worked out for the better. Sitting up high, five rows from the supposed eagles talons atop The Linc, I could see everything. And for this sport, that’s the only way to do it.

One of the first things I, along with my girlfriend and her two brothers, noticed was the seemingly distraction-less environment. No jumbotron urging me to stand and put my left foot in then out and shake it all about. No sound system that instructed me to clap in a rhythmic, yet increasingly impossible pace. No mascot. Just sports. Just soccer.

Once kickoff happened (I feel like soccer folks would call it a serve, but they can’t even bring themselves to be that austere), we watched Real Madrid advance the ball with a precision that almost wasn’t real. I often wonder how outsiders view basketball, the way players seemingly have the ball on a string. We take it for granted, but to outsiders it must appear to be magic. That’s kind of how I felt watching Real Madrid move the ball. So you’re telling me it’s not connected to their feet?

Again: hooked.

There are several ways to describe the experience of learning an entirely new sport. You can wax poetic about it and describe the game in all its glory — that’s the preferred method for the so-called soccer snobs. You can lambaste it for what it isn’t, ignoring everything it is — that’s the American way. Or, you can look at it through the lens of someone who straddles that fence between insufferable and, well, insufferable. As such, consider the friendly end of the fence implanted in the not-so-friendly spot between my left and right leg.

That was supposed to be the first in a three-part series on soccer. But I never followed up. My mistake. However, I’m now two seasons deep into soccer. I even went to a match in London last year. If you want to climb on board – and you should – then check back tomorrow for a casual fan’s guide to the English Premier League.

41 Comments

  1. YES! definitely support hopping on the futbol bandwagon, i’ve done the same recently and have no signs of turning back. it kind of sucks watching manchester united one day then having to watch the union afterwards but i’ll live with it.

  2. Really interesting read. As a brit it’s nice to get someone else’s account of how they see the beautiful game. Well done!

    • The Original that guy

      August 14, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      GTFO! no ‘m completely serious. Fucking european soccer fairy fans. Go Back to your country! ‘Merica.

      OMGZZZ KYKLE SNOTT! WHAT HAPPENEDZ TO THIS SITE. IT USED TO BE SO GOOD AND THEN CARTER RICHARDDS BLOWING EACH OTHER IN SEA ISLE TMZ-ING TEH PHILADELPHIA RACISM SPORTS BLOG-ESQUE DRAMA. MOAR DOG COLUMNS AND YOUR FIANCE IS TOO GAY FOR YOUR OWN TASTES IN (WO)MEN. DICK JOKES.

      • Original fat guy…you are a total fucking fraud. IM THE ORIGINATOR OF KYKLE SNOTT YOU DUMB HOOK NOSED JEWISH PILE OF HORSE SHIT!!!! Why dont you go get RHEA HUGHES and shatter her hands and fingers with a meat tenderizer, then have her fist fuck you in your putrid, loose, gamey, jizz riddled, green asshole with one broken wrist and with the other one, finger blast you with one of her broken, mangled, jagged, infected, 6 inch curled fingernails. After that shell bite off your penis and make a funny hat with it. Fuck you original douche. Youre not original at anything. The only thing youre good at is pumping your mothers loose infected cunt full of ejaculate. Fuck yourself and your entire family you stupid fuckin kyke. Thanks to my lovely interns testicle one and testicle two and our producer back at the studio, Joeseph A Wector Jr seeya tumahrrow everybody bah bye YOURE ALL A BUNCH OF STUPID CUNTS.

  3. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  4. I find it funny… I played soccer, not futbol(‘Merica, bitch) for 13 years. I was forced to stop due to injury, while I was in high school… But, I find it funny that >75% of my piers growing up gave me constant shit for being a ‘foot fag’. I wore the brand proudly.
    There were always two types of people who gave me shit for playing… 1, the typical muscle-head jocks, playing either football or hockey (and later lacrosse and rugby), or 2, those typical Philadelphia-esque sports fans, who never actually played sports themselves past the age of 10 or 12, but knew everything about any type of ‘real sport’ and thus deemed themselves fit to cast judgement.
    The arguments were always the same. “No contact”, low scoring, inability to use your hands, contant running back and forth, no time stopage… I heard all the excuses as to why soccer wasn’t a real sport for the majority of my life. I laughed. Typical jocks. Unable to see how awesome genuine athleticism on an entire team scale was. No biggie. Their loss, not mine.
    The soccer movement has been sweeping across America since the Cup was here in ’94, and led to the explosion of MLS over the past 5-10 years. I don’t mind it. I watch myself a Union match time and again when I can find them on.
    But I do find it funny. I can say more than half of the people that branded me a foot fag (Or at least the ones I still talk to) go to Union games on the reg. Says a lot for the mind-set of Philadelphia sports fans.

    • I experienced the same thing when i broke my ankle and couldn’t play football/Hockey my senior year and joined the golf team. Got the same rash of shit, now they all want to play a round of golf.

    • Carmen Sandiego

      August 14, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      Wow bro that was deep, maybe if you were a cool kid it wouldn’t have mattered what sport you played. Grow up

    • Shamefully, I was one of the people you are referring to. Never played, always gave soccer the cold shoulder. Then, in college I had some friends that played, so I got into it. I even played on an intramural team and got cleated in the shin – I wanted to die. I gained the utmost respect for soccer players after trying to play it.

      Now, I love it and I am so excited that it’s going to get more play in the States.

  5. need to buy yourself a Liverpool kit bro.

  6. alex morgan is so healthy

  7. You found a way to get people to look at a post about the most boring “sport” in the world. You posted a picture of Alex Morgan.

  8. Alex Morgan gave me a dutch rudder.

  9. soccer is fuckin gay. fuck this shit, ill stop reading if i see more soccer posts.

  10. Are the Union on TV? Where can I catch one of these soccer matches?

  11. Alex Morgan saved this post.

  12. Ah, the ignorance refuses to die… “Soccer’s fuckin gay. I’ll stop reading”
    I absolutely love the fact that since you’re too ignorant to know how to simply skip over a post about a topic you don’t like, you threaten to stop coming to the site.
    Eddy, they play on CSN and Fox Soccer Ntwrk from time to time.
    Am I also the only person who doesn’t find Alex Morgan’s flat from head to toe body unattractive?

  13. Happy Birthday Kyle Scott, and welcome to the soccer bandwagon. For soccer newbs indoor soccer is the way to go. It’s fast and rough (like Mrs. Scott) and lends itself to be like hockey.

  14. watch the ESPN2 Premier League games on Sunday’s before Football comes on (if your awake before 1). That’s some beautiful club soccer. Not even the same game as the MLS (a lot more possession, precise passing, not just kicking a ball back and fourth like the MLS sometimes).
    But soccer is great. The current vision and dream is that the MLS will grow into one of the elite leagues like the La Liga in Spain in the Premiership…and that teams like the New York Red Bulls, DC United, and Philadelphia Union would one day be as noticeable as Manchester United, Real Madrid, etc.
    Is it a longshot?? Yes. Was there only 6 teams in the NHL 45 years ago as well?? Yes.
    Who knows if they will ever be that way, but this is America. There’s a ton of money in sports, and with attendance as high as the NBA….the potential is there.
    Soccer is just about having money. If you have Money, you get players. It’s like the MLB.

  15. Dude – you’re appealing to a broader audience by pushing soccer…but you’re killing your core audience. Philly fans aren’t going to become soccer fans overnight. Quite frankly I don’t think we’ll ever be soccer fans, but I think if we do, it’s going to be gradual, and it’s going to be on our terms, rather than this bullshit hype.

  16. Keep up the good work! Liked the post unlike some soccer haters over here. Its fine hopefully they can deal with a couple of posts occasionally.

  17. just to be clear i would let alex morgan sit on my face

  18. Agree with you lance. The MLS is never going to be great unless tons of money is put into it. Just look at some of the salaries of players in the Premiere League.
    To anyone complaining about the post: if you don’t like soccer don’t read the article. Simple enough huh?
    And I also agree with you Joe that Alex Morgan is unattractive. That’s probably because I don’t like white girls though.

  19. great article.
    Just one thing about what you officially want to call the sport: it’s not “futbol” unless you’re in a spanish-speaking country.
    “Football” is the name in English-speaking countries.
    The term “soccer”, has been in use since the the late 19th century and is derived from an abbreviation of “Association” (its a british abbreviation).
    In America, it’s okay to call it soccer. It’s not offensive to soccer players—unless they’re trying to be elitists.

  20. only fags watch soccer

  21. Zach, you are my hero.

  22. Quit kvetching, you tools. I skip the NBA posts, you can skip these.
    Also, re: Alex Morgan – Would.

  23. Robbie Keane to the LA Galaxy another example of the MLS getting stronger. It will take time but hopefully it gets there.

  24. zach is lovebuddies with joe

  25. broadsthooligans

    August 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    As far as the Robbie Keane comment, MLS will only get stronger from the bottom not the top. Talent like Brek Shea coming up out of their systems will be the only thing that makes our league respectable. Robbie Keane comes, which is cool and all, but players like Keane are way less important to this league and soccer in this country than players like Shea (and Dempsey, Altidore, Howard, Donovan, Holden and even Adu who have already done it). The league understands it and has worked a ton on improving the systems underneath them.

  26. Honestly, I’m not a fan of soccer. But, I also wasn’t really a fan of hockey, another relatively low-scoring game, until the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs and now I’m hooked. I have always enjoyed the FIFA video games, but have never been able to force myself to sit down and watch a game. That may change thanks to Crossing Broad’s coverage of soccer, which my prompt me to sit down and watch so I know what you’re talking about. Great read.

  27. the insemenator

    August 15, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    joe and zach are going to have raunchy dirty soccer hating buttsechs tonight. NO FUCKING LUBE

  28. The appeal of soccer to the masses is it’s accessibility. You need a pair of spikes and some shinguards, that’s it. There are few rules in comparison to every other sport. The movement of play is easy to follow. Except on rare occasion, the game is always 2 hours. It’s is easy to grasp for the beginner and understand. As you begin to understand the various nuances of the game and the way the game is played in the different leagues like EPL vs. La Liga, Bundesliga etc… you gain an appreciation for it. Having played and attempted some of the ball control/70 yard passes on the toe certainly helps. You appreciate the fact that these guys are training all week and running 7 miles on the weekend. What makes the EPL more attractive to american fans is the tolerance of contact and the offense first mentality. There’s also the short offseason, the threat and drama of releaguation (some clubs go broke and never make it back) the chanpions league (for some of us) and the FA cup which is my personal favorite. I have no doubt that in 20 to 30 years the sport will eclipse the NFL in popularity in this country. It may very well be the UFC and Soccer at the top of the heap in 2033.

  29. cmon broski broster

    August 14, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    How about an article about REAL sports. A look at the Eagles and Flyers upcoming season perhaps. OR you could do an article about the potential playoff push the Phillies can make.

    Broski Broster OUT

  30. I Like Soccer Because I'm Interesting And Unique

    August 14, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Two years later, let me check… Yep. Watching soccer is still for faggots.

  31. STOP TRYING TO FORCE US TO LIKE SOCCER, I’D RATHER WATCH WOMANS BASKETBALL. GOD AWFUL SPORT

  32. Six Super Bowls; Five World Series; Three Stanley Cups

    August 14, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Oh, please. This is the same reason the Philadelphia Wings had a modicum of success for a minute in the 90′s. The rest of your teams in real sports blow, so you gravitate to any half-assed sport to pretend that your city can ever achieve even an average level of success. Stop embarrassing yourselves (as if that’s possible).

  33. I’m impressed. There were a lot less negative comments to this post than I had thought. Union games are always televised in the area. Just check on their site. It’s either CSN, TCN, NBCSN, and sometimes ESPN.

    A couple points on soccer’s health in America:
    1) Keep in mind that the English Football System (EPL and its predecessors) has been in existance for over 100 years, so they have a bit of a head start on the MLS.
    2) Our nation’s best athletes grow up dreaming of playing other sports (football, basketball, etc.) because they’re the most popular. In England, the EPL is their NFL, MLB, and NBA combined! Just imagine if LeBron, Kobe, Calvin Johnson, LeSean McCoy, and others grew up with one, unadulterated aspiration, to play soccer. It will take time, but as US soccer gains fans, it will garner more TV time, subsequently gaining money. This will cause salaries to go up and America’s best athletes might hold playing soccer as their greatest dream. It will take time.

  34. Who would want to watch 90 minutes of amazing action when they can have 6 seconds of a play then commercials. Go nfl and merica!

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