I am not a reader of the sports pages, except on Saturdays, when Bill Reynolds has a column called For What It’s Worth which is a lot of random thoughts and observations. This past Saturday, Mr. Reynolds said: Let’s see, guys on the US World Cup team have all grown up with soccer, complete with the best coaching and the best facilities, but the team is 50 to 1 to win the cup and Ivory Coast is 33 to 1. Does that make any sense?
Yes, Bill. Yes, it does. Frankly, I am only surprised the odds for the US were that good. After all, it is called Soccer in the US, not Football, Futbol, etc. as in the rest of the world. What you call Football in America and therefore the rest of the world calls American Football, should in fact be called American Rugby. (To avoid American confusion, I will use Soccer and Football – as in American – for the rest of this post.) In Soccer, you may not, except in certain positions and circumstances, touch the ball with your hands. Primarily, your feet are used. In football, the ball is carried, thrown, and only rarely, kicked. (Resisting stating the obvious here…) If you are born in a tiny township in Africa, or a slum in Birmingham, an out of the way farm in Ireland, or a mansion in Argentina, you are born knowing how to play soccer. It is part of our cultural (or memory) DNA. At the age of three, without ever having watched a soccer match, my son could run down the fields in front of our house while simultaneously kicking a soccer ball. Not as easy as it sounds, even if you are thirty, much less three. And no one told him to do it or showed him, he just went outside one day and started doing it. He was in demand by local soccer coaches both in Ireland and when we moved to Florida. Quite frankly, I had always anticipated that he would play for Ireland in this year’s World Cup. Two problems – Ireland didn’t make it and we made the mistake of moving to Rhode Island. When he went to East Providence High School, he was not welcomed with open arms by the Portuguese soccer team and I was too busy to transport him around to play on one of the semi-pro teams with their very demanding schedules. The EP team was not 100% Portuguese but you were ostracized if you were not. I tried to convince my son that once they saw him play and realized he was not really an American, he would be accepted but he had the attitude he was not going where he was not wanted. I understood the players’ point of view. I am certain they never got the support that the football, baseball, basketball and even swimming and golf teams got. So they considered it their effort and their team. But it destroyed the dream of seeing my son play goalie for Ireland.
So Mr. Reynolds, if America takes to soccer a bit more, perhaps little Americans will be born with soccer as part of their cultural DNA – and if you suvive another two hundred years, I’m sure you will see their odds improve!