Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Beautiful Game

I think co-blogger James has fallen asleep at the wheel, so to speak, so I'm going to create this post that I'll periodically update with my thoughts on the World Cup.

So far, not even 1/3 of the way through the opening round-robin of play, a few things stand out.

1.  Ball is just fine.  No controversy here.  Move it along.

2.  Ah yes.  The Italians (and to a lesser extent the Argentinians and Portuguese).  These teams offer such dramatic performances, you'd think it was a production of Puccini's Turandot at La Scala.  (Translation:  These teams are up to their old tricks of diving at the slightest hint of contact.  Or as the witty British ESPN announcer said, "even if there's a puff of wind").  Thankfully, SLATE will be awarding "Dive of the Day" throughout the WC.

And if you're not a soccer fan and wonder how players can get away with this, the answer is referees.  There is only one ref for the entire pitch, though he does have two assistants.  But in general, given the speed of the game it is difficult to catch the dives in real time.  The solution?  Ex post facto video review by FIFA and game bans.  It's unsportsmanlike conduct and has no place in the game.

And in case you have doubts about where I stand on the matter, the following poster hangs in my office.  

3.  Knock on wood, but so far the teams have demonstrated sportsmanship and the referees have not screwed anything up too terribly.

4.  Raise your hand if you predicted the Brazil v. N. Korea outcome?  Yeah I thought so.


UPDATE 2:  And in this video you can see the North Korean news reporting on the glorious 1-0 victory against Brazil.  Definitely waiting to see the People's Republic of Korea Sports Center Top 10 plays of the day from the Portugal match earlier today.  [Upon further analysis from Korean colleagues, the captions are made up...but still funny].

UPDATE 3: Well, I simply cannot imagine ANYONE claiming soccer is boring after watching THAT game. A goal ruled an offside, two goal posts, several near misses, and a game (and group) winner in stoppage time. Yeah, sometimes it does seem scripted. A few quick thoughts:

-- Bob Bradley looks like a genius. More accurately, Bradley is magnificently managing a team of players who rarely play with each other on the greatest stage for soccer (contra, France). His son still had some good touches too.

-- Donovan has come a long way since 2002. Much more mature, and much better at reading the D.

-- We won't know who we face in the Round of 16 for a few more hours. That determination really depends on the outcome of the Germany v. Ghana game and the Serbia v. Australia game. The likely opponent will either be Ghana or Serbia as runners up in the group. Neither one is an easy opponent, but better to face them than Germany.

-- I am definitely glad I am not a recent grad studying for the bar.

-- On the goal disallowed because of offsides: Offsides in soccer is probably the most difficult rule to enforce in all of sports. Even the infield fly rule is relatively simple. As written, an offside requires two things:

(a) a player must be in an offside position, which occurs if "he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent." Generally the goalie is the last opponent, meaning you have to be even or behind the last defender. And...

(b) the player must be involved in active play when the ball is played.

Translated, this means that when the ball is passed forward, the attacking player cannot be cherry picking in front of the goal. He must be even or behind the last defender. On a lot of the free kicks, you can see this dynamic. If they are too close to the goal, they are offsides. If the defenders move too far away from the goal, then they give the attackers a large space to time a run to the goal the instant the ball is played. This also means if two attackers are on a breakaway, and attacker with the ball passes it forward to the other attacker, then it is offsides. Notice that when a player gets a good run they always make that last cross go backwards to avoid any offsides call.

If you look at the video of the Donovan goal, embeded below, Edson Buddle Clint Dempsey is clearly in an offside position. He is closer to the goal line than any defender. In fact he is on the goal line. But when Donovan strikes the ball, Buddle is not interfering with the play. So no, offside call.

Back to the disallowed goal. The referee's assistant ruled that Dempsey was in an offside position. He clearly interfered in the play because he scored a goal. Review showed the instant the ball was played, he was even with the second to last defender, but then stepped ahead to get a better position to score the goal. It's that split second, when the ball is played, that the assistant must get right. Most of the time, they do. But it's very hard to see the position of the attacker, the player playing the ball, and the defenders, all at the same time. So, calls like this happen. It's not an outrage, but a part of the game. The call in the Slovenia game was an outrage because clearly the ref did not see a foul yet he called one.



Blogger Matt said...


6/15/2010 5:19 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Were you being sarcastic about the ball? I hear it's a real problem. Apparently even the guy who kicked the tying goal for the US said he thought he was helped along by the unpredictable orb.

6/15/2010 5:57 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

No, not sarcastic at all. Take away the fact that England already had questions at goal keeper, the weird bounce off the field, general "newness" of the ball, and what's left? There's nothing really inherent about the new ball that's caused any goals. I mean this story has been coming up during EVERY world cup for as long as I can remember. It's time to put it to bed.

Plus (excluding Clint Dempsey here), who are you going to believe? A bunch of overacting prima donnas trying to excuse their mistakes or your lying eyes? The ball moves as it should move.

6/15/2010 6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my favorite Brit tab headline about the goalie was "Hand of Clod." that's great tab writing.

6/15/2010 8:47 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

I do not like sports that can end in a tie at 0 0 after 90 minutes. I just do not understand the appeal I suppose. Baseball does extra innings until someone wins, Football does sudden death OT, hockey does sudden death OT followed by shootouts, basketball does overtimes until someone wins. What is so special about the beautiful game that it cannot go into overtime? It would cause drama to build rather than fizzle away.

6/16/2010 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, out of curiosity, why didn't Dean Edley sign the every-Dean-in-America-supports-Kagan letter? (http://judiciary.senate.gov/nominations/SupremeCourt/upload/060710JointLetter.pdf) I would have thought once all the schools ranked higher than us did, he'd have jumped on that bandwagon in a second...

6/16/2010 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like what Spanish defender Alvaro Arbeloa said when asked about the ball: "It's round, as always."

6/16/2010 2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:46--this might explain it some.

6/17/2010 11:25 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Well all doubts I had that soccer could ever be exciting were removed by today's game, along with all doubts I had as to the nation of Slovenia's purported existence. I can't believe the ref made that call. Wow.

6/18/2010 8:54 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Wow, I never thought I would be so excited by two ties! Armen and I spent the last ten minutes or so parsing the various scenarios for US advancement. As I understand them, they are the following (please correct me when I am inevitably wrong):

1) US beats Algeria on Wednesday. That would leave us with 5 points, which gets us in no matter what, since England beating Slovenia leaves them with 5 and Slovenia with 4 (we would go with England), an England-Slovenia tie leaves us and Slovenia both at 5 for advancement, and Slovenia over England gets Slovenia 7 and England stays at 2 (meaning we would go with Slovenia.

2) US ties Algeria on Wednesday, and England loses to Slovenia. This would leave us with 3, England with 2, Algeria with 1, and Slovenia with an awe-inspiring 7. We would go with Slovenia. Right?

3) US ties Algeria and England ties Slovenia, but US wins the tie-breaker. Here's where things get sketchy. If we tie and England/Slovenia tie, then US and England both end up at 3, Slovenia sails on with 5, and Algeria is stuck behind at 2. So who goes between us and England? I think it depends on the total goal differential, which I guess would not be knowable until after both games. I guess the take-home is we would be rooting for a low-score tie in the England game and a high-schore tie in our game.

Can anyone get more specific than that?

6/18/2010 1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: #3. By definition, two ties on Wed would leave both US and England with a +0 goal differential. Next tie breaker is total goals scored in group. We've got 3 currently and England only has 1, so you got to like our chances if it goes to that tiebreaker.

PS -- We should bomb the village of that ref. We're America goddamnit.

6/18/2010 2:00 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Agreed. Unleash the predator drones

6/18/2010 3:23 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

We are SUCH drama queens. Everyone owes Donovan a beer.

6/23/2010 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soccer is still a dumb sport.

6/23/2010 12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the offsides calls are fucking jokes. combine that with the idea of tie games and we know why soccer will never be a legit sport in the US.

6/23/2010 12:48 PM  
Blogger James said...

Sorry, but it already is. More people play it than any other sport in the country.

6/23/2010 1:34 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

Lots of people play Lacrosse too. I would not characterize it as a legit sport in the same sense as Basketball, Baseball, or Football though.

6/23/2010 2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, by "people" do you mean children ages 4-8?

How many americans play it professionally here or abroad?

How much revenue does it bring in from american markets?

Soccer had its shot in the 1920s-30s when it was second only to baseball in terms of popularity in the U.S.

6/23/2010 2:47 PM  
Blogger caley said...

I watched that embedded video five times in a row. That. Was. Awesome.

6/23/2010 3:38 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I agree with the people disagreeing with James' rationale for why soccer is a legit sport (sorry, youth leagues do not = legitimacy), but I disagree with the assertion that it won't become one. I am sensing somethign of a sea change with this world cup. I'm sure it's a cyclical thing to some extent, but I think this Cup has brought in more people than most. And with a few potentially great games to go, it could snowball even more.

The first professional soccer game I ever watched was US v. Slovenia (I'm not counting the two Real Salt Lake games I attended in 2006 as "professional"), and now I feel pretty much hooked. I think it has a real chance of becoming a football or basketball-level sport in the US, given another decade or two. We'll see.

6/23/2010 4:22 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

As a hockey fan, I'm pretty much used to rooting for the #4 sport. James' point, though I'm not trying to put words into his mouth, is much more subtle.

ESPN has a great story about the road to the US team's first World Cup appearance in 40 years back in 1990 (double bonus: concerns a Bruin). I actually remember watching the 1990 world cup on Univision because that was the only network in the US broadcasting the games!

In 1994, we hosted, and advanced to the round of 16 only to lose 1-0 to eventual champions Brazil (after a US player, Tab Ramos I think, received a terrible red card). Since then, with some success in 2002 that included an improbable 1-0 win over Portugal and a trip to the quarter finals, the US has appeared in every single world cup. There is now a professional outdoor soccer league. At least in LA and Seattle, tickets are selling. And as James pointed out, during this time, soccer has become the most played sport. Exposure is growing, familiarity is growing, appreciation for the subtleties on the field is growing, etc. In short, soccer has a far stronger foothold and a far brighter future than NFL-Europe.

The mystery is how someone can use such an imprecise term as "legitimate" and then quibble when there's disagreement. No one's claiming the MLS will generate as much revenue as the NFL. And if that's your definition of legitimacy, then I wish you well, and hope you enjoy 50/50 split between action and advertisement. I'll take my 90 minutes of pure action with a half time for bathroom breaks any day.

6/23/2010 4:34 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

It's not soccer that's going to take off. It's the idea of soccer.

6/23/2010 4:57 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Fair point that the term "legitimate" is fairly imprecise. But Sean's comment offered a definition ("as a legit sport in the same sense of basketball, baseball, or football") that I was referring to in my response.

My point is that I actually think it can get to that level of "legitimacy" in the not-too-distant future, but that it won't be youth leagues that get it there. I played soccer for 5 years as a kid, and I didn't watch a game until last week.

6/24/2010 12:26 AM  

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