I had World Cup fever. No idea what brought it on, but it hit me like a ton of bricks. I started watching USA friendlies in the spring and never looked back. Every match (read: game) was on TV, even the standard media outlets were covering the event. The whole thing was easy to get wrapped up in. It all culminated with my being fortunate enough to be in a hotel bar in Europe with a gaggle of 12 year old Italian kids for the final match. They laughed, cried, cheered and sang through the whole game. I was hooked, I was enthralled, I wanted to know more and suddenly it was all over. I was a man without a football club (read: soccer team). So I decided to follow English Premiere League (and the soccer world in general). I get Fox Soccer channel, why not? More specificially I was following Liverpool for the purposes of having a team. They are the Reds so it seemed only natural.
Here's an all-too-wordy rundown of what I've learned:
- It's really fucking hard to learn twenty new teams. As if just learning the players on Liverpool isn't hard enough, I can't even name every team in the Premiership. I'm constantly asking myself "Ok that jersey looks familiar, who is that?" followed by "Why the fuck can't they put their team name on the jersey instead of these goddamned ads?" Plus, the whole jersey situation is an enormous fiasco. In virtually every US sport the home team wears the solid color and the away team wears white. Easy. Not in the EPL. Liverpool wears solid red home jerseys but then wears solid yellow (why??) away jerseys. This leads to some confusion on my part. Take for example Liverpool vs. Chelsea. At Anfield (Liverpool's home field) the game would be a red team vs. a black team. However, switch the home team and you've got a yellow team vs. a blue team. Boggles the mind, no?
- Watching an entire sporting event with only a commercial break at halftime is incredible. You know how when you first get HBO you sit down to watch a show, get totally sucked in and the time just flys by? Episodes of Entourage seem to last only five minutes some weeks. As someone who regularly attends NFL games, I can tell you it can seem like you've seen three plays in the past twenty minutes. My only question is: when do these people take piss breaks?
- I'm having an unreasonably hard time understanding the post-season. Given 10 minutes I believe I could fully explain the playoffs for any major US sport to a reasonable person. Apparently Liverpool is playing in the Champions League. Teams from all over the world qualify and compete. The winner of the Champions League is generally considered the best team in the world. Last year Barcelona won it all. The final is sometime in the spring. But the really odd thing is that the Champions League matches are taking place DURING THE SEASON. This means a team will play a league game in their home country and then might go play in Iran or somewhere equally desolate and then come back to league play. Then there is a UEFA Cup for teams not good enough to qualify for the Champions League. I would guess this is a big deal as well. It seems that a NCAA/NIT comparison would not be accurate in terms of importance but I can't think or a better one. Also, I believe that teams busting out of the Champions League early can still go play in the UEFA Cup. Astounding. Then there's some other league championship in the English system but I'm so spent at this point that I don't have the energy to investigate.
(I realize Trout will chide me for this, but did you ever see Baseketball where the playoffs are this ridiculously drawn out system and Al Michaels and Bob Costas look completely overwhemed? That's how I feel.)
- Liverpool's manager, Rafa Benitez, has used something like 94 straight different starting lineups. Jerry Narron has found his soulmate.
- Arsenal's manager is named Arsene. Did he change that after getting the job? Is it just fate? Kismet? Not sure why, but I really needed to get this off my chest.
- There are about eight billion teams throughout the world, and a lot of them play in various tournaments, etc. What an awesome thing, to have a truly world game be played in a global manner. However, it seems that there are less than ten teams who truly have a chance at winning the Champions League, a few from England, a couple from Spain, a couple French teams and some others sprinkled in. That kind of sucks, but there's no real way to creat parity throughout the entire world. (And don't forget to never, ever mention MLS)
- Other countries take their national teams VERY seriously. It was front page news this week that England is thinking about using a 3-5-2 lineup in their next match. 3-5-2!!! OMFG!!! Seriously, take a deep breath.
- USA still doesn't have a coach and still can't pull their heads out of their asses. It was probably time for Arena to go, but you might want to hire somebody else in the meantime. Plus, they just got invited to play in the South American championship next summer which seems like a good idea but will be hard to do with no coach or team. On a similar note, I'm not the one to come up with this idea, but why not have a North/South America tournament every four years? Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and USA would probably be the top four teams with some scrappy underdogs (assuming the USA doesn't fall off the map). That would be fun to watch and on maybe even on par with the Euro tournament.
Well, that seems like enough for now. If you made it this far, here's your lesson: there's a lot of fucking soccer out there, and it's hard to keep track, but for those of us who are the type to check the MLB standings daily, it can be real fun. And, it's still great to watch.