Thursday, June 24, 2010

The World Cup, From The Outside Looking In


I have never been a soccer fan, though not for a lack of trying (more on that later). I have no bias against the sport. I do not hate soccer. I do not hate soccer fans. Or soccer balls. Or soccer moms. On the show this week, we've taken a lot of grief from irate soccer fans who think we deserve a red card for our take on the world's most popular sport. Allow me some time to explain...

I have always been a fringe sport/Olympic sport fan. Like any good American, I've always enjoyed football, basketball and baseball. But I've also always loved learning about sports that most Americans don't know much about. If you've listened to our show for any amount of time, or read this blog, you know that cycling is my passion. Since childhood, I've also always followed and/or played tennis, golf, World Cup skiing, track and field, triathlon, surfing, motorcycle racing, F1--you name it, and I'm open to watching it, learning about it, and trying it.

I would stack my love for and knowledge about international sports up against anyone at The Ticket. Nobody was more into the Winter Olympics than I was. Bob has me on soccer, boxing and hockey. Corby has me on soccer and golf. George has me on golf and swimming. Norm has me on horse racing and gambling. But I'm guessing I've got everyone on most of the sports I listed above, and then some. As a kid, I thought it was great that everyone in school knew who Roger Staubach was, but that I was the only one who knew who Bill Rodgers was. Everyone knew of Larry Bird, but I was the only one who knew of Dave Scott. Everyone had heard of Pete Rose, but no one had heard of Niki Lauda. Walter Payton, Reggie Jackson, Dr. J? That's easy. But how about Laurent Fignon, Gustav Thoni and Guillermo Vilas? I knew them all, because I loved all sports.

Which brings us to soccer. I tried to play it as a kid. I lost interest in a hurry. Not being able to use your hands was a big drawback, I thought. It just didn't have the constant, hands on (sorry) excitement that other sports did. As an adult, I tried watching it, but it never hooked me. I tried getting into the World Cup in 1994 when the U.S. hosted the event--I even went to a game at the Cotton Bowl. Fun atmosphere, but it never grabbed me. I've tried (maybe not hard enough--still more on that later).

So, against that backdrop, and armed with that information--here are my unbiased, non-sarcastic, from the heart observations on the sport of soccer and the World Cup.


THINGS I LIKE

1. Commercial free halves. Greatness. No other sport gives you that bang for the buck. You invest 110 minutes total and it's over. You have zero commercials per half. There is not another sport in the world that can make that claim. I love it.

2. The passion. I would stack the passion of the soccer fan up against the passion of any other fan from any other sport. I've never experienced anything like standing on the side of a mountain road during the Tour de France--the fans are insane. But I hear that the soccer fans at a Premier League game are just as nuts, if not nuttier. I would like to experience that one day.

3. The international flavor. I love any event where, in the stands, you will hear 10 different languages being spoken and see 10 different flags being waved. I enjoy the political/geographical rivalries. I enjoy countries whose hatred for each other goes back centuries. You don't get that in many sports. I also love the color--the jerseys and logos, etc. Very rich.

4. The history. While the game itself doesn't reel me in, the history of the sport does. I like reading about Pele and Beckenbauer. I like looking at the list of the Cup winners. I like the stories behind the stories. Any sport with a thick, global history and with lots of characters and intrigue is ok by me.

5. The United States climb to dominance. Soccer is one of the few sports remaining that we haven't figured out. We've reached the top of the mountain in just about everything else, but the road map to international soccer success is still confusing to us. I like that we are a hungry nation. America is usually at it's best when it's hungry.


THINGS I DON'T LIKE

1. The lack of scoring opportunities. My biggest beef with the sport. There is too much time where the ball is being kicked around at midfield, or kicked out of bounds, or when play just bogs down to the point that you realize nothing exciting is going to happen in the next minute, guaranteed. However, in other sports, there is almost always a chance for a score or something dramatic at any moment. In baseball, every pitch gives you a scoring opportunity. In football, every snap delivers the promise of something big. In basketball, almost every trip down the floor results in a payoff. Even in a slow sport like golf, every single stroke for Tiger counts towards his score--every swing could win or lose the tournament. Every one. Yet, in soccer, I would estimate that you get a legitimate scoring chance once every 5-10 minutes. Not enough, for this reporter.

2. The clock. "Extra time" is the most unstable thing in international sports. Can you imagine watching an NFL game where time was kept on the field and basically hidden from the players and fans? How outraged would we be? I don't understand why the clock can't start at 45:00 and count back, and be stopped when the official wants it stopped. It would make the game much easier to follow, instead of forcing fans to constantly do math and then guess at how much time might remain.

3. The flopping. I don't like it in the NBA, and I like it even less in soccer. At least in the NBA they get right up. In soccer, they bring out a stretcher. Really??

4. The ABC/ESPN announcers. The American announcers (save for a few) act like they've been around the sport forever--they haven't. The Euro announcers that they've imported for this event sound like they would rather be somewhere else. That doesn't get me fired up. Heck, we get so few scoring opportunities, I want those announcers losing their sheet in those moments.

5. The hyperbolic soccer media and fandom. Claiming that the extra time goal against Algeria was one of the greatest moments in U.S. sports history is a bit of a stretch to me. Likening it to the Miracle on Ice (Mike and Mike, Matt Laurer, and dozens of spare soccer scribes) is a joke. The Miracle on Grass? Come on. Should the U.S. beat Spain in the semi-finals on a last-second goal, then yes, let's all roll out the Lake Placid comparisons. But not beating Algeria (who didn't score a goal in any of their three World Cup games) in the preliminary round. As one listener said, it was the equivalent of Texas beating Iowa State 3-0 on a last second field goal. Nice, exciting win--but not epic.

MY PLEDGE

Then again, maybe it's me. So, as an olive branch to the soccer fan who thinks I haven't given the sport a chance or who thinks I haven't thought out my "soccer is boring" opinion, I offer this...

I've been told by many of you via email that the World Cup is not the best soccer to watch--that big-time European pro soccer is. So, I will get into Euro soccer for a season and see if it grabs me. I'll pick one team to follow (suggestions, please), and I will watch all of their games. I will read about it. I will talk about it. I will corner Bob at work and make him answer my questions, at gunpoint if that's what it takes. I will give it an honest effort. I will update my findings along the way. If, at the end of that season, it still hasn't grabbed me, then you'll just have to accept that one of the worlds best sports reporters finds the world's most popular sport boring.

So, let's get going. Let me know which league and team I should follow. Let me know when and where I can watch them. Let me know which websites are the best to keep up with them. I even pledge to attempt to see a game in person, if possible. It's just my way of showing you that I don't hate international sports, and that I don't hate soccer. I just don't get it. Yet.

49 comments:

  1. Niki Lauda?... Wow. as the common European sports fan, who is into soccer, tennis, winter sports, f1 and so on. Let me just say I'm impressed.

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  2. Great take! Try to watch a US game at a bar with a bunch of fans. I did that yesterday for the first time and it was greatness.

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  3. This is how I explained it to my 57 year old father a couple of years ago. He had EXACTLY the same feelings as you...minus the love of the Winter Olympics.

    Think of the periods when the ball is being passed around midfield like second and third downs between the 40 yard lines in a football game. It's battling for positioning. It's setting yourself up to have the best possible scoring chance.

    During those periods, don't mentally fixate on the fact that you know there isn't going to be a goal in the next minute, but allow yourself to marvel at the fact that all 10, 20, 30, even 50 yard cross-pitch passes are IMPOSSIBLE. The way they receive the passes with their feet, chest, or head is IMPOSSIBLE. If you allow yourself to appreciate the pure athleticism in even the more inconsequential parts of the game, you start to understand why they call it the beautiful game. That's why people can be intrigued by a game that ends 0-0.

    As a red-blooded American that would give just about anything to go to a Rangers World Series game with my dad, I understand the things that can initially turn you off to the sport. But hell Junior, you're intrigued by CYCLING. I know you can learn to appreciate a boring sport (with 0 scoring by the way) purely for the athleticism and strategy.

    With that in mind, watch the Champions League Final next year. Go on Amazon and pick out a soccer book with good reviews (I recommend 'How Soccer Explains the World' - written by an American). I guarantee if you approach those things like you did cycling, alpine skiing, and the Americas Cup when you were a kid, by World Cup 2014 in Brazil you'll get it.

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  4. Agree with all your points. The flopping in soccer and NBA turns me off. I finally saw an official in the Italy game today stand over a half dead goalkeeper and tell him to get up or he would yellow card him. I have to give it to soccer on the clock, however. At least there will be no 4 hour games like in baseball. They keep the game going.

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  5. I am a Manchester United Fan, but I would suggest that you follow Tottenham Hotspurs as they are known as Spurs. they will be in the Champions League, have some great players, and a character of a manager

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  6. There will be expanded English Premier league coverage this year on espn. Pick one of the big four (Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool) Ignore Man United (bandwagon is already too big). Maybe look at a team that is on the verge of breaking through to big status like Tottenham (Steve Nash's team) or Manchester City (Mark Stein's team). Seeing it on a big screen in HD is what finally drew me in.

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  7. Follow Fulham (Clint Dempsey's club). Or Tottenham, the third "big" club in London that should do good things next year.

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  8. Liverpool! Become a Kopite! Next season will be dramatic with the likely new coach Hodgson (from Fulham) taking Rafa Benitez' place, the departures of Mascherano and Yossi, but if Torres and Gerard stick around and depending on offseason acquisitons it will be interesting to watch their push to a champions league slot or the Premiere League crown. Their rivalries with Man U and Everton (called Merseyside derbys) are intense. They haven't won an English league championship since 1989-90 (tied with Man U for most league championship wins at 18), but in 2001 they won the FA Cup, League Cup and the UEFA Cup. Their last big title being the FA Cup in 2006. Also, there's the Hicks connection which could be good fodder between you and Bob. They may not have a record season next year, but you may get to see Hicks' body get physically ripped apart and scattered along the Mersey streets should he show his face there in public.

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  9. F1? I have never heard one learned word from you or the station on F1. As an F1 P1 I'd appreciate even a small bit.

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  10. My 1st exposure to World Cup was in 2002 - when it was in Korea/Japan. (so i'm definitely not a lifer). Been a fan since, thought. Following the Spurs in the EPL (www.premierleague.com). Such an impossibly long season, though. Something like September - May, or some such.
    The more i see it, the more I understand it and appreciate the unbelievable athleticism.

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  11. I would suggest to help with your enjoyment of it that you become a Manchester United fan. They are the main rival of Liverpool (Bob's favorite team) and that could make for some lively discussion? It might also help keep it interesting for you.

    I am on a similar journey as yourself and am giving serious thought to following Arsenal for awhile to see if I can get into it more. Call me shallow, but I just love the name "Arsenal". It sounds quite badass.

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  12. If Landon gets sold to Everton follow them. Fox Soccer channel has a ton of Premier League games and they have the exclusive rights to the champions league. I am new to soccer as well and last year was my first year. My strategy is to just watch a couple of big games a weekend because any team you choose will not be on every week. Just be open minded and watch good games. I suggest the fox soccer report as well....10 I believe?? It's their sports center but it covers a good deal of games from all over Europe. You get mostly premier league games and Serie A in Italy. GolTv has the La Liga in Spain with Jozy Altidore more than likely and the Yankees of Europe..... Real Madrid

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  13. As I fan of the EPL, I would highly suggest that you do not follow Liverpool next year. I believe even Sturm would suggest you find another club. I have been a fan of ManU since I was seven, but that was the only team you could catch on TV so I understand the bandwagon comments. Other than ManU, Arsenal and Tottenham are good suggestions as is Manchester City. I doubt following Dempsey and Fulham will change your opinion about soccer. You should also consider La Liga (Spanish First Division) with teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid.

    That said, you guys do frustrate me with your soccer talk. If you do not like it, do not talk about it. You will not offend true soccer fans by not talking about it. Soccer is more than goals, most of the “action” in a match happens in the middle of the pitch, and that is why fans watch, not just for goals. Again, since you are not into that and never were as a kid I am not asking you to appreciate it. I understand soccer is not for all of us.

    I agree the diving is crap. Nothing makes our sport look softer than the dive. I have been impressed with the announcers this year, but then we have had some bad ones in the past. I also want to thank you for recognizing the passion that comes with soccer. It is the one of the parts of soccer that is not talked about as much as it should be in your soccer talk (if you continue talking soccer).

    While Alexi Lalas can drive anyone up the wall, I find myself agreeing with Ginger more often than not. I think he sums up American soccer the best stating:

    “Soccer is not for everybody - as any sport - you need to look at it in a different way. It’s very unique in the way you appreciate the game. I’m not going to come on shows like this and continually apologize for the game. It is what it is. And there is a beauty, but it does make you work for it. And I believe, well I don’t believe, I know there is a group, and a growing group of people that appreciate this game, that love this game, that live within our borders, and it’s just growing. Embrace it or get out of the way.”

    --shared on Stephen A. Smith’s “Quite Frankly” December 16, 2005

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  14. Follow the EPL.

    I started last season and I was hooked. I follow Arsenal and always look forward to their matches. If you don't follow one of the Big 4 you won't get to see their games every weekend. I say avoid Man U and Liverpool (solely so you have a rival in Bob).

    Here is the one website I follow on Twitter for info. http://arsenal-mania.com/

    Good luck on picking a team to follow!

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  15. To argue against some of your dislikes;

    1. Admitted that final scores in soccer are lower than in any other major American sport. But go to ESPN3 and watch the second half of today's match of Italy and Slovakia. Full throttle, loads of chances. When things are on the line, soccer is exciting. And scoring chances are not really about field position, but more about the pace of play. The now famous US goal went end to end in 11 seconds. Sure there are some dull 0-0 games, but there are dull games in every sport. And if you still get a little tiredhead watching 1-0 or 2-1 matches, DVRs are a great way to skip past boring stuff until you get more familiar with the game.

    2. The Clock - It goes hand-in-hand with your like of only having to commit 110 minutes per game. It is a bit confounding at first, but you get used to it and understand it.

    3. I hate flopping with a passion. Probably a sign you should stay away from the Spanish and Italian leagues. The English leagues have clamped down on it, and the Germans don't care for it either. This is one of the main reasons I watch English soccer.

    4. Agreed. I try not to watch very much pre- and post-game commentary. Don't really care for Alexi Lalas or Tommy Smyth either. The guys doing play-by-play do alright. And not to sound like a broken record, but another thing I like about the English game is the commentators don't try to fill air time for the sake of filling it. Its about the game or they shut up.

    To echo the previous commenters, you should probably follow an English team, preferably one who will be playing in the Champions League this coming season. That would leave Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Tottenham. Chelsea (my team) are the reigning English champs, but are getting old and always seem to fall short in the Champions League. Man U are the Yankees of English soccer, loads of money, championships, and bandwagon fans. Arsenal are usually interesting, they are a young team with several exciting players, but haven't won anything in years. Tottenham are an up and coming team with some decent players and a great manager and are playing in the Champions League for the first time in awhile this season.

    I wouldn't recommend following Liverpool. As long as Hicks owns the team, they will be mired with financial difficulties and mediocre play.

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  16. You should follow FC Barcelona or Real Madrid. Spanish La Liga is of a much higher quality than the EPL. Lots of English games tend to be more about brute strength and power rather than finesse and skill. Barcelona features the world's best player, Lionel Messi, and they play the most attractive attacking soccer on the planet. You're not likely to get many 0-0 games with them playing.

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  17. Bill Simmons had the same predicament after the last world cup. This is a great read. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/060719

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  18. Follow Fulham. Four reasons for this:

    1) The EPL is more open than other leagues - more attacking minded. It is a very entertaining league as a whole to watch. You will probably get suggestions to follow an MLS team like FC Dallas (which I am a fan of), but that is the equivalent of trying to convert someone to American Football by watching the Rhine Fire. If you are going to give the sport a chance, start with the most entertaining league and move from there.

    2) One of the things that helps us enjoy sports is emotional attachment. Choose Fulham. They are a middle of the pack team in England, but have a history of American players. Following Clint Dempsey on that team is a little more tangible than just following one of the 4 best teams in the league (Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea).

    3) Following Fulham will also give you an appreciation for how the European system keeps almost every game relevant (top 4 finishers play Champions League, next 4 go to the Europa League, and the bottom 3 get relegated). Because Fulham should be a "mid-table" team, it will help you get an appreciation for that.

    4) EPL games are readily available in English broadcasts. Not every La Liga game is.

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  19. In addition to your Hurculean efforts to make an attempt to understand the sport (Kudos to you), you should see if you can attend a Premier league match in person.

    No gripe from me if you find it boring to watch; it was the lack of balance that bothered me.

    Also, perhaps your next charity game should be Charity Challenge on Grass.....

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  20. Craig, The Premier League will last from about August to May. Your quest to follow one of those teams will be a major beating. Try the FC Dallas March thru November when not so much going on. Not the same, but your plan is ri*dic*u*lus.

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  21. Junior-

    I completely understand where you are coming from. Crazy thing is I played soccer at the highest level I could in Texas until I was 17, including on a couple of spots on the Houston area ODP (Olympic Development Program). While playing competitive soccer I had 2-4 practices a week and 2-3 games a week, unless I was in a tournament, then I had several more games. It wasn't until after I stopped playing the sport competitively before I became a fan of the sport on TV. I think it's because I miss the competition and soccer was my "passion". I now watch as much soccer as I can when I can because I can appreciate the sport on TV now.

    I would like comment on some of the "things that you don't like" about soccer:

    1) Lack of scoring - I completely agree from an american standpoint, however I love this about the sport. The lack of scoring can be a beating, but if a team scored 6-8 goals a match you would see the crazy celebrations that you get to witness because it wouldn't be as big. One thing that has to be appreciated for one to enjoy watching soccer is the play of the game. The creativity that a player has to have in order to move the ball down the field. If you only watch soccer to see scoring, you will ALWAYS be disappointed because the sport is not set up that way. They want the score to be an absolute celebration.

    Example: 17-7 Football game = 2-1 soccer game - The difference an American sees is that they understand what it takes for a RB to make a 20 yard run. The blocking & communication that is involved, but they can appreciate it. Most American don't understand that in soccer in order to move the ball down the field you have to "know" your teammate and be able to be dynamic. These players don't get to stop play and huddle up and say "I'm gonna do this, while you do that, etc.". Learn at appreciate this and you can begin to appreciate the sport.

    The other problem with the scoring is the FREAKIN OFFSIDS RULE! Not only does this stop MOST of the scoring opportunities but it's not even officiated correctly. It's called wrong all the time. The rule is that the offensive player must be in front of the last defender BEFORE the ball is played. Problem is once the ball is played they can run behind the last defender and it's legal, however since all ref's in all sports are blind they get this call wrong most of the time. The need to fix this terrible rule. I understand it's purpose, but something needs to change.

    2) The clock hidden time: I agree. Nothing else to say here.

    3) Flopping: This is terrible and I hate this about the sport. It lessens the sport in my eyes. They only way to stop it is to red card floppers when it happens. Problem is sometimes it's difficult to tell if it was a flop or an actual foul because there is only one referee & 2 linesmen and they are all watching the ball not what's going on away from the ball. (See Brazil vs. CIV).

    (continued)

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  22. 4) Announcers: American announcers suck. Nothing else to say here. The crazy Irish/Scottish (I'm not sure which) guy is pretty awesome though. His descriptions of the action are pretty hilarious.

    5) Hyperbolic Media and Fans: The win against Algeria wasn't big. No one I have ever played soccer with would have ever considered that a "BIG" win. The US was supposed to win and it took us to extra time to actually achieve that. Come on, we should have destroyed them. They should actually be upset with themselves and not satisfied just because they moved on. We should have score about 6 goals in that game, but didn't. All of these people saying it was a "BIG" win do not understand what a big win is. Was it an "important" win, yes. It is being oversold right now. If that was against Germany in the knockout rounds... that's a "BIG" win. A team that is superior, in my opinion, that we beat by a late goal = BIG WIN.

    As far as you watching soccer: EPL is the closest thing to what we see here in the MLS as far as how the game is played, they are just much better players. They tend to play more long balls down the field then the rest of the European leagues. Check out Spain's La Liga or Italy's Serie A for more finesse type play. That's where you'll see true quality soccer, although I follow Chelsea from the EPL mostly.

    I hope you enjoy watching the game and become a fan of the sport.

    Jake B. - McKinney, TX

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  23. Mr. Miller

    You also asked for a good book on air this morning. I recommend "The Miracle of Castel di Sangro." It is about an American who "discovers" soccer during the '94 World Cup and travels to Italy to follow an improbable Serie B (think AAA in baseball) team from a town of 5,000. If anything, please at least read the foreword about his experience with an AC Milan fan.

    Long Time Listener First Time Poster,

    Matt Miller

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  24. Follow Manchester City - they have it all, a billionaire owner, building a good team for the present, a past full of years of pain and futility, an overbearing neighbor that is much more successful... Think of the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox vs. the Yankees (who are Manchester United in disguise), except imagine that 11 years ago the Red Sox playing in AA while the Yankees win a World Series.

    A couple more thoughts -- the things you do not like about soccer is what many of us do like. A goal in soccer is the most precious event in team sports - it means sooo much. Your golf example from this morning was apples and oranges -- it's like saying you don't like football because Romo runs a QB Sneak from his own 20 because there is no chance him scoring. How many touchdowns are there in the average NFL game, 3.5? So what about the other 140 plays?

    What bothers soccer fans is the reactionary nature of its critics. I don't like NASCAR, but I don't go out of my way to make fun of it. So many haters treat it as their patriotic duty to bash it, but then turn on Bassmasters, the Dickies 500, or a mid-July Rangers game and call that "action."

    What you also forget is how idiocracy football is (and I love football). Think about how many stupid things are in the NFL:

    -- shoulder pads and helmets

    -- radios in helmets

    --TV timeouts

    -- 6 seconds of running followed by 35 seconds of milling around

    -- one coach for every position

    -- the arcane rules and penalties (ineligible reciever, intentional grounding, false starts, illegal formation, fair catches, the tuck rule).

    -- guys making $3 million a year to rush the passer on third down and then jog back to the bench

    Soccer (and rugby) are antidotes to the idiocracy of football -- play both ways, no elaborate equipment, continuous play, once there is a substitution, there is no going back, play shorthanded for the remander of the game for serious fouls.

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  25. FourFourTwo magazine. It's cool that you're doing this Mr. Miller.

    I love soccer and I hate trying to explain the whys to the majority of people I meet. The horns, the refs, and the flopping to draw penalties can push any fence-riding fan right off their perch.

    Take the US v Algeria game. Horns are drilling into your hippocampus (is this what hell sounds like?), the Refs have taken yet another precious goal away from Team USA, and an Algerian defender who has just bloodied Clint Dempsey's lip and does not get a call let alone a booking.

    I could not be raging any more at this point over a sporting event and then...Landon Donovan scores. I couldn't believe it. I was just waiting for another mystery penalty to show up. It didn't. My mood turned 180 degrees in a flash!

    This is the reason I love the game. It's the only reason for me to watch sports really. It's a chemical addiction.

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  26. you know what, that's fine if you don't like the sport. just leave it alone. it seems like people who don't like it want other people to dislike it as much as they do.

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  27. "1. However, in other sports, there is almost always a chance for a score or something dramatic at any moment. In baseball, every pitch gives you a scoring opportunity. In football, every snap delivers the promise of something big. In basketball, almost every trip down the floor results in a payoff. Even in a slow sport like golf, every single stroke for Tiger counts towards his score--every swing could win or lose the tournament. Every one."

    I completely disagree with this statement. If you actually go through with this, I would love to see you try to get up and use the restroom in the middle of a match. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I have got up to use the bathroom and come back and someone is celebrating a goal. I learned my lesson not to do that anymore.

    When I first started watching soccer (10 years ago), I would get up to do something, come back 30 seconds later and someone has scored. It is IMPOSSIBLE to know when someone is going to score. As the poster stated above. The play that Donovan scored on lasted 11 seconds.

    As for what league you should watch. I say choose the English Premier League as it is the most popular in the USA. You can literally watch EVERY game live through FSC, FSC+, foxsoccer.tv. You can't even do that IN ENGLAND. Which is quite astonishing.

    And for what team....pick a team that also plays this year in a european competition. Champions League (Chelsea, Man U, Aresenal, Tottenham), Europa League (Man City, Aston Villa, Liverpool). All these people complaining about picking a "bandwagon" team are fools, they did the same thing as everyone else in america. They saw a couple matches of that team and started following them. Choose who you want and go all in.

    Cheers!

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  28. Follow the english premier league.

    avoid man u, please.

    tottenham, everton, and fulham are all great suggestions. man city as well

    I support tottenham. I saw their U-20 team at a stars game when they were here for the dallas cup

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  29. I've been complaining to my husband all week that I was tired of hearing you guys complain about soccer. Very impressive hearing about your pledge this morning. I think you'll enjoy watching Euro league. It's a lot more fun when a team is used to playing together.

    Now, regarding your "Things I don't like:"

    1. I hear and understand your comparison to golf, or even football, where every play seems to be driving closer to a definite "point." I think the reason you look at soccer this way is because you never played.
    Having played competitively since I was a kid, I think I watch soccer with a different view than non-fans.

    I see everything as an opportunity to score, it's just a matter of capitalizing on those opportunities and not being lazy.

    2. As someone else stated above, the clock is just something you get used to. As a player, when we knew it was getting towards the end, we'd ask the ref for time.

    3. Can't disagree with you on the flopping. It's ridiculous. You get used to it, I guess.

    4. Can't really disagree with you on the announcers either. I generally tune them out. But check out this one announcer who makes up songs for the players. Greatness. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbMqNSjRXvY

    5. I think everyone is just making a big deal about it because it's the World Cup. I've seen people on Facebook who were freaking out when we beat Algeria. None of them are soccer fans, outside of the World Cup. It drives me insane.

    I know I should be happy more people are watching soccer, but they don't know what they're talking about and they'll go back to ignoring it once the World Cup is over. The win over Algeria was nice because it was a win, and so last-minute, but it shouldn't have come down to that to begin with. It's no Miracle on Grass.

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  30. Soccer is the one sport where it has to be a World Cup -OR- I have to be there in person to watch. Dallas vs. Chicago??? Nope. USA vs. _______? Yep. Or college soccer. I live in Indiana and they have a few skins on the wall here and it's actually entertaining to see it...IN PERSON. Were it on TV? I'd pass.

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  31. As for missing the goal by "miles", obviously you guys hadn't watched the Algeria game. There were many close chances that were either saved by the keeper, parried by the keeper or a defender, bounced off a post, or just missed.

    Some shots do sail high or wide. I won't bore you with the physics, but you might as well ask why the world's greatest golfers hit balls in the rough, or the the world's greatest hitter's foul off so many pitches. It doesn't take much for a lot to go wrong at times.

    As for "stoppage time", I know this is a tough one for American fans, and it comes down ultimately to whether the Center Ref is competent and honest. Soccer is meant to have continuous play--hence the stretchers to haul off the truly the injured as well as the floppers. Soccer is meant to be an endurance sport--hence only 3 subs, who cannot return once subbed out. At the end of the match, the Center Ref signals the 4th (sideline) official saying he will add "at least "x" minutes for delays during the intended 45 minutes of play. If you are ahead and stalling, with the clock running , you can't be sure the Center won't add more time to punish you for stalling. Of course, stopping the clock might fix that. But, consider this, what if you are behind or just need a breather? With the clock running you are motivated to keep going at all costs.

    As for floppers. I hate them. Some nations (I won't name them) think of this as clever (like spitballers in baseball) And some nations are appalled by such antics (the English for example).

    As for over-zealous fans--all sports have them. NO WAY does the Algeria game come within a country mile of the Miracle on Ice. Only a fringe U.S soccer fan --or a hack reporter searching for a cliche--would dare suggest so.

    I will leave you with this. The World Cup is never about any one game. It's a four year struggle. Fans start with the players called in for the early camps 3-4 years away. They debate who was brought in, and who was left out. Go with experience or go fresh younger legs? Then, each of the world's soccer zones (called Confederations) has its own qualifying procedures.

    In the U.S. , which is part of the Confederation known as Concacaf, the are several rounds of qualifying, with only the top 3 going. This year, the U.S.,Mexico and Honduras qualified. People who follow their national teams closely sweat out the final player selections (is he too old? has he been with a big club, but "sat the bench", has he had time to recover from an injury, is he talented, but lacks heart? Is he not as talented, but somehow always manages to do those things that matter in big moments?)

    Never forget that what you think of as the World Cup---is actually only the end of a years long process after several hundred teams have been narrowed down to just 32. Many soccer-mad nations have never qualified for this 32 team final. So, when Landon Donovan scored against Algeria in "stoppage time" to advance the US to the"knockout Round of 16" ---and avoid going home--- US Soccer fans were thinking of the 4 years they had invested--all on the verge of going up in smoke. Hence the depth of the celebration/elation.

    What if Super Bowls took 4 years to get to? And what if the Super Bowl included the whole world with their being 7 or 8 nations with NFL quality teams?

    And, what if you loved a sport and knew that its success on the world stage might be the only thing that could help your sport grow (like when Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong started winning Tours de France?).

    Best of luck, and I'm sure all of the Tickets many soccer fans ( who, like me, tend to love all "American"sports too) appreciate your promise.

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  32. First Kudos, and I really mean that. Saying that, I must confess I was so irritated yesterday that I, a true Day 1-P1, almost swore off your show. I didn't of course, because I love the show, and because I'm not a reactionary.

    But, even though you (unlike George) were careful to mention a few things you liked about the World Cup (and your love of certain non-traditional U.S. Sports), it truly felt like an largely insincere fig leaf used as a jumping off point to disparage the WC and soccer. Trust me, if the Hard Line had done "The Hard Line's Tour de France Segment" in a similar vein, during the Tour, you'd have been non-plussed.

    As for your future watching, there are basically 4 top Euro Leagues. The English Premiership (a/k/a the EPL), widely seen as the fastest and most "athletic", the Spanish Primera DivisiĆ³n (a/k/a "La Liga"), the Italian Serie A (the "A" is pronounced "ah", like what you say when the doctor asks to look down your throat), and the German Budesliga. The EPL and La Liga presently are the two most popular here as they have the biggest names and spend the most on players.

    If you watch the EPL, I'd watch Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs, or Arsenal (by the way, Chelsea, which won the EPL this past year, played 38 league games and outscored their opponents 103 to 32, so think of that as about 21-7). If you go for La Liga, FC Barcelona is presently thought to play "the most attractive" (deft passing) soccer and claims Lionel Messi, widely regarded currently as the best player in the world. You could root for Barcelona's key rival, Real Madrid, sometimes regarded, for better and worse, as the Yankees of soccer (in fact, they spent more than the Yankees this last year for players).

    Or, better yet, watch the Champion's League. Each year, the top finishing teams in certain Euro-based leagues (plus a few qualifiers) play in a 32 team event, which culminates in the winner being awarded the European Cup (a kind of World Cup, but for pro-leagues instead of "national teams"). The final has an audience that at least rivals if not surpasses the Super Bowl. And, in watching the Champions League you can watch teams from different leagues with different styles of play. Fox Soccer Channel or ESPN2 have the most English speaking broadcasts, but even many English only speaking fans watch various Spanish channels (Gol TV, etc., for sheer volume of coverage).

    Ok, as to some things you don't like. What can I say. Much you'll just learn to accept if and when you become a fan/student of the game.

    As for seeming to be "stuck in the midfield", this isn't unlike the NFL, with most of the play between the Red Zones. It's more that possession just changes more often. The build-up of a play is something one learns to appreciate. And, trust me, things can go from end to end in a heartbeat (ala Donovan's goal against Algeria, which began only seconds earlier with a great outlet pass by keeper Tim Howard)

    In terms of geometry and tactics, soccer actually has much in common with basketball (minus all the scoring of course). Think of soccer as basketball only with far more space and twice the number of decision makers ( I include only soccer's 10 field players, and not the keeper. This greatly multiplies the game's geometric permutations).

    Soccer is low scoring....but just because something is so difficult to achieve doesn't make it bad--in fact, it can make it all more glorious if you choose/learn to see it that way. Also, shots on goal are far more plentiful than goals, and you can look on these "plays in the end zone" if you chose to.

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  33. I dont think any of your post have ever had sooo many comments in such a short time. Congrats! This should help for advertising!

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  34. I'd suggest:
    Everton if you want hard work and solid skills
    ManCity if you want to see some top level players with attitude issues
    Liverpool will be a whole new team this year.
    Fulham will be complete different as well.

    My personal opion is Everton is as American as British get. They are a cross town rival with Liverpool and this rivalry can be very violent.

    My favorite website to learn all that is the English Football in all divisions. http://www.vitalfootball.co.uk/

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  35. Junior,
    I think the most obvious team for you to pull for is Everton for a number of reasons:
    1) It's not one of the big 4 (Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool). The followers of these teams are spoiled little brats, reminding me of a douchbag who wears both a Yankee hat and Lakers T-shirt. I know your fair-rooting sensibilites will prevent you from making this jump.
    2) Everton for the past few seasons have been on the verge of making the Champions League. They are right on the cusp. Its more fun to root for a team to make that next step, not one who feels entitled to keep their place. Remember, the journey is more fun than the destination.
    3) They have a rich tradition who are considered the other team (also calls themselves the peoples team) in Liverpool. 9 EPL titles, 5 FA Cups. Its always fun to emerse yourself in the rich tradition of the club you pull for. And it would be fun to be part of something special if they win their first EPL title in 25 years. You would be part of the chase of their holy grail.
    4) The fans are very passionate - Liverpool is considered the hotbed of English soccer. They are one the loudest crowds, and are usually at 90%+ capacity at old Goodson Park.
    5) Liverpool is their biggest rival - wouldn't be fun to get in Bob's face during the Mersyside Derby.
    6) The U.S. factor - their goalie is Tim Howard...and might get Landon Dondovan to come back.
    7) Cool uniforms - Royal Blue and White. Classic look.
    In terms of where to watch, you can never go wrong catching the EPL games at Trinity Hall or any of the Londoner pubs. Everton's games will probably be shown maybe every other week. If you choose Everton, you will not regret it.

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  36. I moved to England 16 years ago for work and after meeting some new friends they invited me to join them for the next home game. I'd never been to a soccer game in my life, had tried to watch it on TV on occasion but it all felt, well, foreign.

    I walked into Coventry City's Highfield Road stadium on a bright spring day in mid-April 1994 for what would be a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday. The experience was enough to drag me back for the next game two weeks later against Blackburn Rovers. Coventry won that game 2-1 knocking Blackburn out of the title race. I stood in the West Terrace that day where the "Ultra" fans were. The experience was something else, the singing, the chanting, the laughing.

    I was hooked. And it's perhaps my curse that I support Coventry City to this day. They've since been relegated to the old Second Division but that's my club.

    My point here is that you won't succeed if you try and do this on your own, watching the Premiership on TV over breakfast on Saturday mornings before moving on with your day.

    So my advice, if you're serious about succeeding, is to seek out other fans, particularly native exports and get to know them. Watch games with them down the pub.

    But...

    As with all sports there is *no* substitute for being in the arena. And you also have the advantage of not being euro-centric, being as close to Brazil & Argentina as Europe.

    So to make a long story short; Go. Spend a week in Europe or Brasil and pick a week where you can attend at least three games. Travel around to see the atmosphere in more than one ground. London has 12 clubs in the 4 professional divisions. But try and get out of London too, because England is more that just London.

    I'll happily take you out to the Ricoh, which replaced Highfield Road a few years ago. Coventry are awful and the stadium's a bit sterile, but I promise good beer!

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  37. I've watched MLS (FC Dallas), Premier League (Newcastle United), Scottish Premier League (Celtic), Italian Serie A (Roma), Spanish La Liga (Barca), League of Ireland First Division (Derry FC) ...

    That said... this year I gave the Bundesliga a try for the first time and they have not let me down. Most of the time, I have to watch the games online (ESPN) but since he team I follow is fairly popular I get to watch their regular games to from time to time.

    Bayern Munich FC... the Star of the South.

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  38. Bill Simmons did this a few years ago and picked Spurs. Terrible choice, even if they qualified for the Champions League this year, so don't repeat it. :-)

    While I can't complain if you go with Fulham or Everton (especially if they bring Landon back), I would strongly suggest following Arsenal. They're on a bit of a dry spell, but they have a winning tradition, they play an exciting brand of football, their games are almost ALWAYS televised (unlike Spurs, Fulham or Everton) and there's even a fantastic book. ('Fever Pitch'). Go YouTube some compilations of Thierry Henry or Dennis Bergkamp, too.

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  39. I had never followed soccer outside of the world cup until last season.

    Last summer, Chelsea played Club America at Cowboys Stadium. I enjoyed the game and decided to follow Chelsea for the year.

    Chelsea is one of the big four (along with Arsenal, Man U. and Liverpool) so it was kind of like jumping on the bandwagon of the RedSox. I can understand why some would have you choose more workman like teams like Everton or Hull City, but..

    I was able to watch 90% of Chelsea's games on either Fox Soccer Channel or ESPN. Those games not shown on those channels, I was able to watch at The Londoner in Addison. It does help to be able to watch the games each week. That is the biggest drawback to choosing teams like Tottenham, Everton, Hull City, etc. You may have trouble finding the games. And if you are going to make the effort to follow for a year, you should follow. And convenience is key. Chelsea, Arsenal and Man U. are teams that you should not have trouble finding their games each week on TV to watch at home. Plus these teams also are qualified to play in the Champions League, another league of greatness.

    My final selling point making Chelsea your pick is the scoring. Chelsea set a record for goals scored in the premier league, last season. So if you want to avoid 0-0 or 1-0 games, Chelsea is a good bet. Didier Drogba was the league's top scorer. The won the league title and the FA Cup. Pick a winner. They are the Spurs to Man U's Lakers.

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  40. Impressed with your efforts to open your mind- next time don't put quotes on "extra time", when the phrase for that area of the game is "stoppage time"- extra time is over time. Other than that, great work, I just started following the Premier League and have latched on to the lowly Potters of Stoke City. It might help foster some deep connections if you find a struggling team that gets little tv coverage in the states, like you listening to Spurs games through a crackling, distant AM signal as a child- just a thought.

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  41. Yo
    I know you dont understand it, but watch this video on You Tube and maybe, just maybe you can get a sense of the beauty and passion for this sport. If this doesnt give you chills man, I suggest you focus you efforts on something mindless like Fantasy Football and leave the sport to people that have a heart. The super bowl, NBA championship or the world series can not even come close to getting this type of reaction out of their fans.


    http://g.sports.yahoo.com/soccer/world-cup/news/student-s-video-tribute-to-donovan-a-hit--fbintl_ro-videodonovan062510.html

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  42. Please don't bother. It's good to see the talk that followed the USA to South Africa. The USA will become a powerhouse in world football (soccer to you) over time, but we need the current generation to enjoy it, grow with it and develop it as only they can do at a young age and fresh, open minds. I still take my aching knees and overweight body onto a pitch twice a week because the facilities here are so damn good. I'm an import to Dallas, and I struggle to watch NFL etc I understand the rules and I see why the game is played the way it is.

    I've followed my English home town team for 34 years. I've seen them play in all conditions, rain, snow, wind, sometimes sunshine, to a hostile crowd , to the joys of a Wembley playoff final, the suspense of cup games, my games room is painted in my teams colors, the successions of promotions and relegation's (yeah, look up those terms) from the lowest of 4 divisions to the premier league and back to the lowest tier again, to the tragedy of a stadium fire that took 56 supporters lives.

    You're not going to get that sat on your couch on a Saturday morning as you watch an EPL game. Have you even been to a FC Dallas game? Why not start off by supporting your own local team?

    Stay with the 4 sports that America knows. Please don't follow an EPL team.

    Greg S

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  43. Also, you should try playing the game to gain an appreciation of the difficulty of making a perfect pass/shot, etc. Plenty of friendly leagues where first-timers can play; or just pick-up....

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  44. Proud of you Junior for reaching out and experimenting with Soccer/Football. I'm glad I did, and hope you will be glad too for yourself.

    I started out very fringe like when the World Cup came to Dallas when I was in high school. I followed the subsequent World Cups in the same fringe manner. I tried again in 2006 and really tried to read/learn about the different teams and their star players. It helped I have a foreign buddy at work to steer me straight and was a huge EPL fan.

    So I picked a team with rich tradition and the ability to compete. Very randomly (like most people do things), I had recently seen a picture of my grandfather as a young buck in the US Army who was stationed in Liverpool at the time. So why not Liverpool, rich tradition and ability to compete (plus the owner made their jerseys red like his unicorn blood). I also enjoy watching Clint Dempsey and Fulham. I was born in Nacogdoches, where Dempsey is from, so natural draw there. Again, I've picked my alleigences like a girl drafts in Fantasy sports, who cares ;)

    I then watched EVERY game start to finish of the Liverpool season, the same way I do the Cowboys, and I even hit the DVR for the Champion's League and FA Cup matches as well. I then hit Wikipedia to start on my history lessons.

    Champion's League/Europa League is a must watch, this is where you will learn about all the players in the other Euro leagues but don't have time to watch on a weekly basis. This way you know who Samuel Eto'o is when you watch Camaroon in the World Cup, or Diego Forlan with Uruguay.

    Last piece of advice. Stick with the EPL, the competition is better, and it is crazy diverse. As your games watched counter goes up, you will start to see the strategies unfold, particularly for how certain managers and clubs like to approach a match. This is like knowing that the Cowboys like a 3-4 defense to get Ware out on the edge and like to use Whitten in the slot. You begin to watch for play development.

    I'm no Sturm, tracking stats at the neglect of my family, but understanding what they are trying to do (like in cycling), makes the competition all that more enjoyable. You then see how it develops and start to forget about the clock.

    Be prepared for the frustrating 0-0 draw, especially if one team turtles (stays in defense and never attacks), and one team peppers the goal with shots incessantly all game long. At that point, all you want is just one goal to get your next 3 pts.

    The other thing that helped, was watching it multiple years in a row. Then you get to experience the trade windows and follow player and manager movement, like in MLB, NFL and NBA. It's always more enjoyable when you can experience the controvesry of trades and free agency, even when they hop leagues.

    So in short, I bid you luck in your quest for soccer nirvana, it takes a bit for it to hook you, but when it does, it will be your Saturday and Sunday morning routine. Best part of Europe is the early games that don't conflict (for the most part) with domestic game times.

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  45. Craig,
    Go Chelsea. There so much on and off the pitch with team you will never be bored. Londoner in Addison is own by a Chelsea fan and it's a great place to watch the action.

    What would basketball look like if we had the FA Cup for basketball. Duke vs Mavs for a one and done.

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  46. Great post of your feelings on soccer. No one used to hate soccer more than me. I am telling you that I used to have the exact same views that you do and still do on some to a lesser degree. I would like to counter your plan of following an EPL team and offer you the advice to watch one Champions League game a week all the way through the season. I also adopted an EPL team which is fine but Champions League offers what the American sports fan wants that you can't get out of the EPL as a newcomer to soccer. Every Champions League game means a possible elimination which happens all season long. You will never see players put more on the line and get a larger understanding of soccer than following Champions League. Another reason it would be a better option for you is that Champions League plays its games on tuesday and wednesday, the slowest sports days during a busy sports time of year. It will never interfere with the NFL which will always be higher on your priority list. If you choose one game to watch each week you will find players you like from many leagues and will be guaranteed to experience heartbreak and exaltation many times throughout the year. By the end you will have seen the worlds best teams and will hope your favorite EPL team signs the new up and comer from the German team you watched. BTW - choose Arsenal. DO IT!!!

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  47. Great thoughts on soccer. I actively hated soccer more than anybody my entire life and I shared the same opinions as you when I tried to give it a chance. My strong suggestion to you is that you watch one Champions League game a week throughout the season. The reason I say this is twofold. The lesser reason being that its games are played on Tuesday and Wednesday throughout the year which is the slowest sports days in a busy sports season. You will still be able to give the NFL and college football your full attention. You can pay attention to the NBA in a perfect season to ignore it(Thanks to the Lakers and Heat).

    The main reason I think you should watch Champions League is that it offers all the things a newcomer to a sport needs. Outside of the beginning group rounds every game can lead to elimination. This causes constant excitement and has the best teams from every league in it. By choosing to watch the EPL you are effectively ignoring 80% of the worlds best teams in soccer. It would be like choosing to watch only the American League West in Baseball. Each week you will be able to see a great matchup between two of the worlds best teams effectively eliminating each other. It is like a season long March Madness and in the midst of the year you will be able to experience agonizing heartbreak and sheer exaltation following teams that you thought you would never care about. Champions League will also give you a strong understanding of the differences in style that each league has and still will offer the playoff feel that EPL can never replicate. It takes awhile to get used to winning the EPL with no playoffs like we are used in the USA.

    If you do choose an EPL team make it Arsenal. Man U and Chelsea spend like the Yankees, Liverpool are being dismantled by the Ranger's own, Tom Hicks. Tottenham will always be the Utah Jazz of the EPL. Arsenal have won it all before but it has been awhile and they are a young up and coming team. It is always more fun watching a team grow than fall apart. I also think Manchester City would be an excellent team to watch but they are a year out of being in Champions League.

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  48. With the possible exception of Man City Arsenal are the best choice for a newbie to follow in the EPL.

    Trying to compare them to an American pro sports team is unavoidable but ultimately pointless - the history, culture, internationalism, the ability to fairly easily be present for every game etc. is just too different. If I had to do it I'd say the Steelers.

    A few notes on pronunciation. The "ham" in Fulham, Tottenham and Birmingham is pronounced much nearer the "um' in "Um, I dunno" than in Birmingham, Alabama. It's the English Premm-ee-er League, not Premm-ear League. English people get pronunciation wrong too with their "Mitch-ee-gan" and "Mary-Land". Maybe nothing to be done about this.

    "Fever Pitch" must be one of the best sports books ever written. It's slightly dated now but nothing I've ever read describes better what it was like to be a sports fan in general and of the Gunners in particular over that time period - and I was.

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  49. I listened to your show this morning when you chose Arsenal to be your adopted EPL team. Good pick, but I'd have to agree with a gentleman up above who said not to adopt an EPL team so that you can maybe one day enjoy soccer. You might get into the game by watching it on TV, but to actually go to a game, which you said you have before, and to see the pounding tackles, and the beautiful runs and passes come alive, is a great thing to see. You said that you enjoyed it then when you watched it live but the game didn't really grab your attention. I've got a few things for you to look for when you are watching the game.

    First, you said that there is maybe a goal-scoring chance every 10 minutes or so. The reason being is that these guys are professionals, that's why they are on these teams. They don't make mistakes, but when they do, or their concentration goes on a certain play, that's when it ends up in their net. For instance, 3 goals were scored when Onyewu was on the field in the World Cup, and every single goal was his fault. That is why he didn't play the rest of the World Cup. So, watch for these mistakes, which are, first touch on the ball, sloppy passes, bad communication, etc.

    Second, watch the intelligence these players have. The better players on the better teams have this attribute. What to look for is the simple 1-2 pass, or give and go. Diagonal runs made by offensive players. Through balls which can get you in behind the defense. These are just a few things to look for.

    Third, look for the organization of each team. The better organized team from the back on up, is usually the team that will win. In soccer, defense wins you championships. The better goalie you have, and the better organized back line and holding midfielders you have will win you championships. For instance, Spain in the World Cup, and Inter Milan winning the Champions League last year.

    Last, is the manager. You can't really watch him during the game, but you can see what he does in the off-season and what his lineups are for each game. Since you chose Arsenal, with Wenger, I'll give you a few things to look for in him. He loves the game so much that he wants his team to play beautiful soccer, which a lot of other fans that don't like Wenger love Arsenal and Barcelona for that reason. His game is a possession game, where they want the ball, but they want to attack with the ball, most of the time with it on the field. There will be a lot of movement off the ball, with a lot of dynamic players that can really light up the field. Wenger doesn't like to go out and just buy the best players available. He really scouts and likes to bring in young players so that he can mold them into what he wants. Right now with Arsenal, I'd say they are very weak in their goalie position. As a matter of fact, they are looking for a replacement right now, so check on what Wenger is doing for that. They are also looking for a better defense next year, so check that out as well.

    These things, I hope, will help you understand the game a little better. The reason that this game is called the beautiful game is that each player out there has to be in sync with each other player out there, even the other teams players. They have to be one. And one mistake, can be a huge mistake.

    Cheers

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