World Cup - US vs. Mexico

Thursday, June 20, 2002

The hobby of watching sports on television confuses me, mostly. I enjoy physical activity and I guess I respect these (mostly) men who play these games well. But I get bored quickly, I guess, and footbal, basketball, and baseball just don’t offer enough to keep me attached to the screen. I probably also associate people who watch a lot of these sports with a sort of culture I don’t really want to be a part of. I’m not interested in becoming a guy who hangs around Sundays with beer and chips watching the game.

Soccer has always been a different matter. I like to watch soccer. Maybe it’s because I usually only see it played when the World Cup is on so I never get sick of it. Maybe it’s because I have played soccer off-and-on since kindergarten for various teams and just in pick-up games here and there. I’m not good, but having first-hand experience trying to develop game strategy and understand ball skills might make me more appreciative of those who do these things well.

So I’ve been watching as many World Cup games as I can. Unfortunately, the games are broadcast here in Austin between 1:30 and 6:30 in the morning so, well, I can’t really catch that many. (And only the US games seem to be broadcast the next afternoon or evening during reasonable-people hours.) Still, I try. Not having a job helps.

One game that does seem worthwhile paying attention to is the game between the United States and Mexico that is starting just right this second on ESPN.

I haven’t seen either of these teams play yet, so I don’t really know what to expect. They seem evenly matched, though, and regardless of who wins, a North American team will go on the final eight along with possibly one other North American team (Costa Rica) and definitely one other African team (Senegal — who slid past Sweden by the narrowest of margins about fifteen minutes into the first overtime last night).

Really, I don’t know that much about soccer. Compared to old world hooligans, that is. Like I said, I play an alright game when I just play with people at the Intramural Field, but I only have a beginners skill-set. And playing with different people every time makes creating team cohesion and strategy rather impossible. (Not that such the thing really existed the last I played on a team in high school.) I have found that I have the ability to judge good playing and get excited about the events of the game. Knowing the details of the technical aspects of the game is one thing — a very important thing — but, really, to get into it and have fun with it, a person just needs to be able to pay attention to key players and enjoy the complicated sort of physical chess that is required to progress the ball in towards the goal. Scoring points requires a sort of unified cleverness — working around problems, finding holes, creating strengths. Basketball (especially) and football seem to me to be more about rapid-fire scoring (in the case of basketball) or celebrity-ism (football — with a quartback and wide-receiver, for example, being the celebs, causing most of the action, while the other players just do support duty). Everyone touches the ball in soccer.

IBM has quite cleverly been using the basketball team metaphor to sell their ebusiness solutions. Soccer might be a better metaphor if it were more appreciated in the US. Basketball is about the rapid-fire. Soccer is about the team effort in accomplishing the very difficult task.

While I consider writing the ad guys at IBM, I’ll watch the game.

Mexico, four minutes in, just crossed the ball very close to the net, but an American headed the ball away.

Hot damn. In the eighth minute the US just pounded in a goal. A perfect set-up. The ball rolled right to a US player standing alone in the box, Mexican players not prepared. Very nice kick. Sco-o-o-ore. (Well, I’m watching ESPN2 and not Univision.)

I would be excited to see the US win this game. Usually I favor the team that would lead to the most interesting result if they won. Hence my appreciation for Senegal reaching this far into the competition. And I think if the US were to win this game and, in an incredibly unlikely event, the whole World Cup, the soccer dynamic in this country would change. Might get more press for Major League Soccer — although I suspect the fact of that matter is that the MLS just isn’t a very good league. Maybe someone would start broadcasting European football. I could get into Manchester United and go on occasional rants about those bloody Liverpudlian arseholes. Of course, those games would also be broadcast three in the morning…

As I understand it, only teams from Europe and South America have ever won the World Cup. So, having the US, Mexico, Costa Rica, or Senegal come out on top would be pretty damned exciting.

13 minutes in.

15 minutes in. Good shot from Mexico. Deflected by the goalie.

Damn. 66 minutes in the United States gets another goal. That’s 2-0 with 24 minutes remaining on the clock — a practically insurmountable lead in soccer terms. The announcer is really happy about that, screaming into the mic. It’s quite exciting. Mexico, though, got fucked on a hand-ball in the box earlier, though (meaning, a US player punched the ball out of the goal box, defending, without the ref seeing), and Mexico has had possession of the ball for more of the game and more shots (I beleive). Scoring goals is what matters, though. Good to see that the US will probably go on. Unless someone on the American side starts fucking up seriously.

I’ve seen short promo spots for Brian BcBride twice, now. He scored the first goal of this game and is, apparently, a big name scorer in the MLS circuit. Good player. Seems to be all over the place — scoring goals, the works…

So Mexico. The problem seems to be, essentially, that they can’t shoot straight. They move the ball into the US box — and someone kicks the crap out of it and it flies twenty feet over the goal. (Well, 73 minutes in the just got a nice shot in.)

The downside of low-scoring games like soccer is that in situations like this, with one team up two points with fifteen minutes to go, they aren’t so exciting. Sure, Mexico might swing a goal, but the odds of them making up two points is so low as to be nearly impossible.

I guess these elimination games are called “knock-out games.” That’s what the announcer keeps calling it… “The US has never won a World Cup knock-out game.” This is probably the second-most used sentence by the announcer. The first: “Mexico has had three days to rest for this game, while the US has only had two.”

Mexico has had the ball 67% of the game. US 33% (obviously).

I like Blanco, the Mexican player. He looks so humble, with slightly slumped shoulders and melacholic face, but he seems to be a hard-ass, playing a powerful game and riling the US players, trying to get one of them to freak and get a red card, giving Mexico a one-man advantage on the field.

Now I want Mexico to score a few. The more exciting outcome would be for Mexico to come back and beat the US. Or at least take it through two overtimes and into penalty kicks, which, I think, are the most harrowing way to win a soccer game.

The United States team is about to be super-happy. Maybe I should go riot.

The US goalie got a yellow card. He looks like a Scottish soccer hooligan — bald, thick forehead, cold eyes.

Well, Rafael Marquez just got a red card for ramming his head into an US player’s head. Mexico gets to finish the game with only ten players. D’oh. “I wonder if Jones remembers what day of the week it is or what his name is,” says the announcer of the American player.

See, Blanco just ran over another guy, and screamed shit at him horribly while they were on the ground. And he looks so harmless. That’s why they’re the most dangerous. Really, Mexico is playing a dirty game right now, pounding US players mercilessly and grabbing about five yellows and one red since half-time (while the US has receieved none).

5 minutes of stoppage time. The clock in soccer never stops. So, when ninety minutes are up, the ref adds some extra time on to make up for lost time due to penalties, injuries, etc. 5 minutes is very high.

US almost got a goal 94 minutes into a 95 minute game.

Last US World Cup shut-out? 1950. Against England. Related fact: England and Scotland field different teams. I don’t exactly understand the political construction of Great Britain, but that sounds sort of like the US fielding teams from Texas, Cali, and Alaska…

And the US wins… “The land of the free, the home of the brave!” the announcer hollers. Whoo.