Monday, August 30, 2004

My Fellow Americans:

International Soccer Really is Amazing

It is the fourth week of play for the Premier League, the top-flight soccer (a/k/a football) league in England. My team Arsenal Gunners remains undefeated, and played brilliantly against the newly-promoted Norwich side. Arsenal has not lost in 44 games! A record. They played last season without a loss and picked-up where they left off.

I became a soccer fan while spending time in London. I starved for baseball information and the only games shown live on television started at midnight, sometimes later. I needed something, and when an American friend took us to a match at Highbury, in North London, I was hooked.

The match of the day for me this Saturday was the dreaded Manchester United Red Devils visiting Blackburn Rovers, at Ewood Park, which aired live at 7:30 A.M., in Brooklyn.

Manchester United is probably the most famous sports team in the world. I know Americans will insist it is the Yankees, but that simply isn't true. Most countries of the world doesn't play or follow baseball, and those that do most often follow soccer with more enthusiasm.

I loathe Manchester United, and refer to them as ManUre. They are a tedious bunch of superstars. They are not as boringly arrogant as American athletes, they are more prima-donna-like; still they make my skin crawl. They sold David Beckham two seasons ago, and that has not proven to be a smart move for seller or buyer!

ManUre is filled with other notables: Ryan Giggs, the Welsh international. The hateful Roy Keane, an Irish international. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugese pretty-boy who starred on that nation's European Cup and Olympic Teams. Kleberson, the Brazilian international. And a host of the best international players that money can buy (who aren't playing for Real Madrid.)

Last year they bought Tim Howard, the goalkeeper of my MetroStars. I am a season-ticket holder for the Metros and Howard was the best American goalkeeper ever! It didn't take long for ManUre to scoop him up. I am very happy for Tim Howard, as he is now making millions; but I will never forgive ManUre for taking him away from us.

Blackburn Rovers are a perennial middle-of-the-pack team: not good enough to win any trophies, nor bad enough to be relegated from the bottom of the standings. Blackburn features Brad Friedel in goal. Friedel, a 33-year-old, Lakewood, Ohio native has played in the English Premier league since 1997, and often works as the goalkeeper for the US Men's National team. His career started at UCLA and includes stints at Brondby of the Denmark Super League, Galatasaray of the Turkey First Division, and Columbus of Major League Soccer.

Blackburn also feature Lorenzo Amaruso, the much-traveled Italian international. Brett Emerton, a 25-year-old Australian international. 32-year-old Paul Dickov, a Scottish international who has played for Arsenal, Manchester City, Brighton, Luton and Leicester. New acquisition Morten Gamst Pedersen of Norway. Former ManUre player, Dwight Yorke, the 33-year-old Trinidad & Tobago former international who also spent part of his career at Aston Villa (in Birmingham).

As you see, English Premier teams attract some of the best players from around the world.

Saturday's match would feature two opposing American goalkeepers. This was exciting! When the line-ups were announced, I learned that a third US-born player would be on the field (a/k/a the pitch): 18-year-old Jonathan Spector who was obtained from the Chicago Sockers would start in defense for ManUre.

This was all Friedel's match. He made save after spectacular save for ninety-plus minutes.

Paul Dickov scored a goal for Blackburn in the 17th minute and the 1-0 lead held as the clock approached 90:00 minutes!

In soccer, the clock never stops and the action rarely slows. On those few instances when play does come to a standstill, the official on the field keeps track of how much time elapses and that time is added to the end of the corresponding half. Generally, this stoppage time amounts to one or two, occasionally three minutes.

During the second-half, in the 63rd minute, ManUre's French international Luis Saha made a spectacular breakaway that was halted by an illegal block by Lorenzo Amaruso. Amaruso was shown a second yellow card and dismissed from the game (a/k/a match). Blackburn would have to play the remaining 27 minutes (plus added time) with only ten men to ManUre's eleven! Not a pretty proposition.

Still, Friedel continued his day of amazing saves, denying everything ManUre could throw at him.

At the 90th minute, the sideline official held aloft the board announcing the stoppage time: 4 minutes! FOUR MINUTES!

You see, in the English Premier League, as with all professional leagues like major league baseball, NBA, and the NFL, it is the job of the officials to help ensure that the game remain popular in the eyes of the ticket-buying public. In this vein, the officials generally slant their calls in favor of the popular and glamorous teams. I am an Arsenal supporter (a/k/a fan), so I know this is true. Arsenal is a championship team and the calls go our way more often than they don't! It isn't fair, but it is it way things are. Of course, New York Yankee, Boston Celtic, and Dallas Cowboy fans will deny this vehemently along with their ManUre brethren and will insist that this is the insistence only of bitter losers and those envious of their teams' successes. Those who would deny this are wrong; and their defense of such officiating makes them look like blind consumers in Ford Pintos and not like learned sports fans. It happens. So be it.

Since one of the world's most popular teams was losing, it behooved the official to minimize the possibility of a ManUre loss. Four minutes should have done it!

Well . . . it did! In the 94th minute. The dreary and tedious Alan Smith managed to put an equalizer (a/k/a a tying goal) past Friedel after an illegal hand-ball pass from Luis Saha with less than a minute left to play, and ensured some fruits of ManUre's labor: a draw (a/k/a a tie).

There never should have been four minutes of added time. Saha should have been called for the hand-ball. Blackburn should have won.

Irrespective, this was a wonderful game to watch. I recommend rising early some Saturday morning and tuning-in to your local international sports channel to watch a match from Europe, or some Sunday night watch a match from South America. I may be angry about the result of the Blackburn match, but that's the way it goes sometimes!

Next Saturday, the US men's team will play a World Cup 2006 Qualifying match against el Salvador. Check your local listings!

Blackburn (free registration)

Manchester United

Premier League


1 comment:

benny said...

Should there be a Salary Cap in Football?
Personally I think there should be! It’s just getting to be stupid money in football at the top of the premiership!
It’s always the same teams at the top proving that football success is based purely on money which ruins the idea of it being a sport! They’ve done it in rugby, basketball, hockey and American football and it makes the sports more competitive and better to watch!
I do a little Spread Betting from time to time and most matches don’t hold much surprise who is going to win, its boring! I want to see a team at the bottom pulling off an amazing season beating last seasons winners in a close fought battle!
Make things fair! It shouldn’t be about money!
All there is all that money in the premiership and barely any of it stays in the UK so it’s not even helping the economy!
From my Spread Betting (or more precisely Football Spread Betting) if I ever win big (which is never, I’m unlucky) it’s still nothing compared to the average premiership players weekly wage!