I Have No Idea What Soccer Means, But It Aggravates A Lot of Phillies Fans


Ascendency and Decline: Soccer, Philadelphia, and the Phillies in 2014

First, an introductory paragraph for you seamheaded baseball fans out there for context. I'll be brief:

This afternoon's World Cup match between Belgium and the United States marks another growth point for U.S. soccer. Whether the men's national team wins or loses, folks who follow such things will point at the steady rise in international quality of the roster, or television ratings or revenue, or even the team's progress in the quadrennial affair, which (if you know about such things) includes survival past a pretty difficult group and some increased prominence and respect for its historically doormat-ish regional country member group, CONCACAF (you can think of this like a mid-major conference that does surprisingly well in the NCAA basketball tournament). If the pre-tournament 13th-ranked U.S. beat 4th-ranked Belgium today and advance to the quarterfinals, that's a very, very big deal. There are a lot of prominent soccer countries scattered on the floor already, like England, Italy, and the 2010 Cup winner, Spain.

Second, full disclosure: I like soccer. I play it still, though I was never particularly skilled or fast. I'm a Union season-ticket holder. And I've coached young children how to play it in my town for 20 years.

Third: I come in peace. My point is not to proselytize, which is pointless anyway, on a baseball blog, and only serves to anger up people's blood. Every sport is flawed. You get to pick which sport you like to follow! The internet makes it easy (though I note here, with some judgmental sadness and worry, that the SBN blogs that do the biggest click business, if I read such things correctly, are ultimate fighting sites). I like baseball, too. A lot. Maybe more! And sometimes I'm not so sure, but it doesn't bother me! I've got room for two!

There now, I said it.

I deeply respect and remain friendly with others who might feel differently about soccer, such as those on this very masthead, whose reactions to the sport ranged the gamut from bemused disdain to a kind of regional-based contempt. In some ways, it was reassuring, because there's a ton of posturing going on in the media right now about what this soccer thing all means, maaan. And it seems to really be designed to get people really angry!

I have no idea what it means. But I will put some curious evidence of recent thinking out there, for the purposes of introduction (if you don't follow soccer at all) discussion and entertainment. You can consider it a special World Cup edition of annotated links.

Let's start here. If you know nothing about FIFA, soccer's governing body, John Oliver recently and brilliantly exposed it for the corrupt cabal it is, making the NFL look like a mom and pop store.

Last week, conservative banshee Ann Coulter wrote on Human Events a provocative bit of chain-yanking clickbait, "America's Favorite National Pastime: Hating Soccer" after which things have gotten really strange. For people who like soccer, this was yet another tired collection of old jokes and distortions about the game. Because it's Coulter, of course, there was more red meat for her nativist, codified racist, sexist even (that was clever) base.

It inspired this FJM-style riposte on Vice Sports from Tim Ryan and David Matthews, which was entertaining in spots (mostly the .gifs) but similarly tired in its volleys of counter-arguments.

Evidence: Deadspin's Tim Marchman wrote this about a Boston sports columnist, whom you could easily substitute here in Philadelphia for sports dons like Howard Eskin or Angelo Cataldi: Dan Shaugnessy Has Been Writing the Same Soccer Column for Years. At least Shaugnessy tends to critiques of the sport itself.

More locally, the Inquirer's Frank Fitzpatrick wrote "Will soccer's gain be baseball's loss?" on Sunday, a collection of thoughts I've generally been thinking (soccer won't disappear post-World Cup like it has previously) to others, such as, "why are you spending $140 on a Diamond Club box seat for a Phillies game?" I'm bothered by how Coulter's arguments are regurgitated in the eyeball-scorching comments, as the politicization of the game is very strange. I can get backlash to articles like this and, though there are unmistakeable trends noted here in this one, because as a baseball fan I appreciate the sport's deep American roots, and lack of authenticity by soccer poseurs is bothersome. I mean, do your own thing. Grow it our own way. I'm more intrigued by the analytics involved in soccer.

It struck me a few weeks ago, as the Union uncharacteristically scored a bunch of goals in a few minutes, that the section I was in was loudest when we shouted the tried-and-true, American cadence of "Let's Go, U-nion! (clap clap, clapclapclap) rather than echo the imposed, new, sometimes fun songs and chants the Sons of Ben start up in the River End, which serves mainly to entertain themselves. But to me they feel, at times, like so many ill-fitting European cut articles of clothing. The soccer revolution may be coming, but it will only get serious when U.S. fans dump the tea in the harbor. Meanwhile, American authenticity will reside squarely on the baseball diamond.

Nonetheless, I'll root for the U.S. this afternoon. As for what it all means, maaan, feel free to comment below.

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