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Soccer Players Are Wimpy Athletes
They don't run; they jog. They don't fall; they dive. They treat contact like an infectious disease. These were the biggest preconceptions I took into my final game, a highly anticipated exhibition at Giants Stadium between the U.S. and the world's No. 1, Argentina.
It took a little more than 37 minutes of playing time for me to realize that, well, I was a fool. A loose ball had squirted free, rolling toward where I had positioned myself, behind the U.S. goal. Argentina's Javier Mascherano and the U.S.'s DaMarcus Beasley gave chase, Mascherano coming away with the ball after cracking Beasley with a hip check that sent the midfielder careening into the boards. I looked up, certain I would see one of those colorful cards come out of the ref's pocket. No foul. Play on.
The action was pulsating. Heads collided. Bodies soared before crashing violently to the grass. True, there was the occasional head-scratching decision. U.S. midfielder Pablo Mastroeni was ejected in the 71st minute, and I'm still wondering why. But show me one bad call in soccer, and I'll show you a reel of NBA ref Dick Bavetta's greatest hits. For 97 minutes the two teams grinded, pressing the action on both ends, engineering fast breaks from 100 yards away. It was the best game of the weekend. And it ended 0--0. Imagine that.
"The physicality makes it exciting," U.S. defender Heath Pearce told me afterward. "When you're going for the ball and it's between you and another guy, you are going to lay that other guy out to get there first. That's the kind of stuff you really can't appreciate on TV."
Agreed. After five days and six matches I can now say that I enjoy soccer at its best—though I continue to despise it at its worst. And the biggest problem is that you're as likely to see a mess as a masterpiece. But how do you know going in?
Wait, what's that? The U.S. is playing a World Cup qualifier two weeks from now—in Barbados? Hold the presses: I think I have one game left!