SI Vault
June 16, 2008
SI's most strident soccer basher tests whether five days of total immersion in the sport can transform a lifelong hater into a fútbol fanatic
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June 16, 2008

Are You Like Me? (i Bet You Are.) I Bet You Hate Soccer

SI's most strident soccer basher tests whether five days of total immersion in the sport can transform a lifelong hater into a fútbol fanatic

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After 16 minutes the referees deem the field unplayable and wave the teams out of the muck. The Barra doesn't move. When lightning strikes in the distance, the P.A. announcer tells fans to take cover in the concourse. The Barra chants louder. Only after a personal request from a United official does the Barra relent. An hour later the game is suspended. A few angry Barra members storm the flooded field and are escorted out. The rest leave on their own, hurling profanities.

As I wade back to the van, water spills from my sneakers at every step. I should be miserable, but I'm not. I'm smiling. American soccer fans are great. If only there were a few more of them.


There Is No Strategy

Who is Claudio Reyna? The New York Red Bulls had persuaded Reyna to sit with me during the first half of their Thursday night game against Chivas USA at Giants Stadium, so it was probably a good idea to know whom I'd be talking to. Reyna, I learned, is the former U.S. captain who had a successful career in Europe before returning to the States to join MLS. (He's currently injured.) O.K., here was a man who could talk soccer. Here was a man who could explain how there is more to the game than 20 players running up and down the field. That there's more to scoring goals than one really good player kicking the ball in the general direction of the net—and hoping it gets past a bunch of guys.

But there isn't, as even Reyna admitted. "Some teams play technically," he said. "Mostly in Europe. But soccer is probably the least coached sport of them all." Reyna did turn me on to certain nuances. Spacing is critical, and coaches often shift players into more defensive positions when they have a lead late in games. Up by a goal with the clock winding down against Chivas, Red Bulls midfielder Dave Van den Bergh raced toward the sideline and shouted to New York coach Juan Carlos Osorio to assign someone to "sit on" Chivas midfielder Paulo Nagamura. Osorio sent in defensive-minded midfielder Luke Sassano, who helped New York hang on for the win.

Still, Reyna confirmed my belief that soccer is more about individual talent than teamwork. He mentioned former national team striker Brian McBride, whose ability to head a ball in traffic is unmatched. And, of course, there's David Beckham, who could ping a paparazzo in the head from 50 yards away if he felt like it. "What Beckham can do with free kicks and corner kicks," says Reyna, "is an art form."

So there is strategy: Get more players like Beckham.


It's Mind-Numbingly Dull ...

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