International Soccer is Fun

I am sure that I would be considered by some to be a sports junkie. Having season tickets to baseball and watching between 8–12 hours of college football every Saturday probably is enough to get me there, but it certainly doesn’t end there. I watch every Chicago Bears game, and usually 1–2 other NFL games in a week. I didn’t watch any regular season games of the Chicago Blackhawks but I saw almost every minute of their playoff games. I watched almost none of the NBA regular season, but watched a couple dozen NBA playoff games. I never miss the horse racing Triple Crown races, and even used to at least watch the Daytona 500 every year. One sport I never thought I could get into was soccer.

Last year I went out of my way to watch a bunch of he Men’s World Cup, mostly the games with Team USA playing. I enjoyed it. Sure soccer can feel slow at times, but the games move at a relatively good clip with just two 45 minute halves with running clocks. It’s amazing to watch a sporting even with so few commercials. Plus it means the time commitment is just two hours. And the slowness of the game just makes the intense moments that much more intense. In basketball for instance, there are a ton of points scored, so really there isn’t a tense moment (unless it’s game 7 of a playoff series) until the 4th quarter, and probably late in the 4th quarter. In the NFL or college football, it’s true that a score could happen on any play, but more often than not it’s easy to see when the probability is very high, and again the moments of those games aren’t tense until late, especially with modern offenses scoring so much more. Hockey and soccer share the scenario that any goal could be the last.

Hockey can have the puck go in from a lot of places, but in an average game there are probably 30 or so shots on goal for each team. And let’s be honest, it can be pretty hard to tell what is a goal and what is a save until the referee or someone reacts. I still remember the Stanley Cup winning goal for the Blackhawks in 2010 where even players on the ice didn’t realize the puck had gone in for a few seconds. Soccer has the advantage of having far fewer shots, and most of the time a much easier time knowing the ball went in.

I enjoyed the men’s World Cup last summer, but the combination of the ridiculous theatrics of flopping, and the fact that the US got knocked out quickly made it hard to get too into. But this year with the women, who are one of the best teams in the world, it was different. There are lots of good stories on this team, and there was a lot of hype going in. Women’s soccer is fun to watch. There no flopping, and mostly the only time some is writhing on the ground is when they are legitimately hurt.

I had plans on Sunday so I had to watch the game timeshifted a bit. It meant going on radio silence on social media so that I could get the full experience. And boy was it worth it. The early scoring barrage was incredibly exciting, and being a soccer n00b the goal from midfield was something that I had never seen before and rewound and watched several times. 4–0 should be an insurmountable lead in soccer, but because it was so early, and Japan is one of the world’s best, I was a little nervous. When the score got to 4–2, it was tense again. That is what makes soccer different. 28–14 in a football game doesn’t feel tense. 4–2 in a baseball game wouldn’t feel tense without at least one guy on base.

Being honest though, I don’t know if I could get that into it without it being the national team. I tried to watch one of the European league championships a month or so back (UEFA maybe?) and I couldn’t get into it. The fact that I didn’t know the teams and players surely played a role, but that couldn’t have been the only thing. I did get my first live soccer experience a couple of years ago at a Chicago Fire MLS game. Seeing soccer live made it so much better. But watching the women’s national team win the World Cup was easily the most fun I have had watching soccer ever. It won’t be the last soccer game I watch this year, and I am suddenly very excited for 2018.