Saturday, June 26, 2010


It was a beautiful game—perhaps the best soccer I’ve seen this decade—devoid of questionable calls by refs, cheap tricks by players and histrionics by all. In the end the best team—Ghana—won simply by playing better in the first half, scoring early, and showing superior skills at ball-handling.

The Ghanaians in the first 45 minutes of play swarmed the ball like a wedge of maddened honeybees. Their quickness was amazing to see and their relentless pursuit of the ball at anytime and anywhere kept the Americans off-kilter. The West Africans charged more often, ran faster and harder, slid greater distances and headed the ball higher than did the US team. It was that simple. And yet, in its own way the Americans won by not giving up. In the last seconds of the overtime, they were still charging ahead, and when the final whistle blew there was no doubt they’d given their all.

There were amazing moments in the crowd as well: Mick Jagger and Bill Clinton, side by side, the singer’s cavernous mouth in a gleeful smile as the former President whispered in his ear; Americans with astounding face-paint, outdone only by Ghanaians in a sea of green and orange; Ghana’s President, John Atta Mills, leaping to his feet and pumping his fist in the air when his team scored its second goal.

I like soccer, always have. The athletism of good players in undeniable—who else can sprint a hundred times in 90 minutes? I love the non-stop action, the minimal involvement of good refs who know that the heart of the game is full of minor infractions, but only the important fouls should be called. The synchronized runs of good forwards passing the ball back and forth is chess-like; I like the crowds—well, all but the hooligans from the British isles.

Though millions of American kids play soccer, the professional game has never really caught on in this country, though it is making headway. Every four years when the excitement of the World Cup catches up with even the unwary, the game gets a nudge, a bit more popularity. It will never replace football or basketball as America’s favorite sport—and that’s fine, as far as I’m concerned—but I think in a decade or three, we might be as familiar with the names of the goalies as we are with those of our favorite quarterbacks. We’ll come to better appreciate the incredible skills all these athletes manifest, and venerate them as we do Olympians. Can’t come soon enough for me.

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