So I’m not the biggest soccer fan in the world. Granted neither are most Americans, true statement. Soccer is always a hot and cold thing in America, we have a huge A.D.D. problem in this country because either we can’t follow it, don’t want to follow it, we think it’s too boring or some other negative way of viewing it.
Funny thing is that as youngsters the first sport we learn to play is soccer. There you are at the age of five running around a grassy field and kicking around a ball having a blast. Then around age 11 or older American Football takes its place and we trade shin guards for shoulder pads.
I hated soccer. The fact that I couldn’t use my hands annoyed me to no end. It’s the only sport where you have to have your head down for more than a fraction of the time (side note: Scott Stevens would probably love soccer because he would take everyone’s head off). It never resonated with me like the other sports. What also can factor into that is the fact that there isn’t a major soccer league in the country that could’ve me recognize what cool players there were in the game (MLS you don’t count today).
Let’s be real, how did you get into sports? Three reasons; a. parents and relatives, my mom was a huge San Francisco 49ers fan and loved Joe Montana to death. She knew about the Steelers dynasty and bought me books on past Super Bowls to get me into the game, so before I knew how to tie my shoes I knew about John Elway’s legendary drive against the Browns, Lynn Swann’s catch versus the Cowboys and the undefeated Dolphins of 72.
Second reason? Star players. Yeah, I liked basketball—until a guy named Michael Jordan dunked from the free throw line in an exhibition showing, and scored 63 versus Larry Bird, and switched hands in mid-air in the finals. Get the picture? We love athletes, buy their jerseys, worship them practice their moves, batting stances and everything else they do. Athletes draw us to sports after a while more than parents because we catch ourselves drooling at the TV over them.
Example: my family is a bunch of Mets fans, Mom, uncle, aunts all of them, when I was a kid I liked the Cubs. Why? Andre Dawson. I loved the way he played the game. He hit home runs, stole bases and was a great outfielder. Dawson was the reason I began to follow baseball on a daily basis. It went from buying the newspaper to see what he did in a game to looking at the box scores of the Indians, Braves, Mark McGwire, Doc Gooden and others. One guy turned me into a baseball junkie.
Third, a winning team. Yeah it sounds bandwagon-ish but hear me out. The 1994 New York Rangers got me into hockey, not just by winning the Stanley Cup, but just the whole story of the 54-year curse and Brian Leetch and Mark Messier’s guarantee. Hockey wasn’t big in my family (black family, 99% white sport, you figure the rest), funny thing is in the early 90’s they used to show hockey on channel 9 in New York. So I missed out on free hockey that I could actually find before the age of 9, thanks mom.
But when 94 happened I had to watch, at this point I was a Yankees and Giants fan (family hates that) so as a New Yorker I had to follow the Rangers. Watching them win the cup turned into a hockey nut. I began following the Rangers on a regular basis, bought a Gretzky jersey when he came here years later, and studied the game. Everything from the Montreal Canadiens to Bobby Orr, the Edmonton Oilers and everything else just took me over. I fell in love with hockey and still am, even though Glen Sather makes me want to shank myself.
So now we come back to soccer. Here’s its problem in this country and has been for a long time; we don’t know who plays the game, our family didn’t have a bunch of AC Milan gear lying around the house and in America there are no Chicago Cubs, Red Sox or anything similar to latch onto in soccer.
It’s the world’s game, just not ours. Hence the reason we have a major league here and outside of L.A., D.C. and Seattle you wouldn’t know it.
Which brings us all to this point right here. Why am I talking about soccer when it’s obvious that I know nothing about it? recently I have given soccer another chance and it’s due to this blog and just the admiration lots of Americans have for the game.
Turns out as much as we don’t like the MLS we love the English Premier League and La Liga and Serie A. We pledge allegiance to Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid and other soccer clubs. You could probably thank this to world travel and studying abroad where we meet actual die-hards who love the game, and since we can’t watch the Cavs or Cowboys at the time we get into Bayern Munich or Ajax. For me it started with those ESPN sports fans issues where on the cover we see Kobe Bryant decked out in FC Barcelona gear. The world’s best baller a soccer fan? Hmmmm….
Then what happens is you get a job that you hate that makes you want to blow your brains out (I’m going somewhere with this don’t worry). I worked recently at Ted’s Montana Grill (no comment) it was so slow there that all I did was eat ice cream and watch soccer because the night time bartender would always through on the soccer channel. I watched what seemed like 3000 games in 30 days, yeah it was that slow, and I found myself inquiring more about the game. The flow was different in European soccer, more graceful and offensive. Teams actually scored more than a goal a game, and if they didn’t the defense was still beautiful and lured me in.
Strikers were like dunkers. Lionel Messi and Didier Drogba were like watching Vince Carter and Dominique Wilkins. They were graceful yet powerful, I loved watching Drogba just always know where to be when the ball came and knew where to finish. Yes you just read that properly, I know two soccer players, progress I thought.
So was I ready for the next step—drum roll please—finding a team to cheer for?
It’s different when you’re older than a child because whatever team you start sheering for you immediately seem like a bandwagon fan. We normally make excuses like being a bruins fan but cheering for the Sharks because Joe Thornton used to be a B, or liking the Jets as a Ravens fan because of Rex Ryan. It’s hard for soccer because of two things; one, we have no allegiance because we don’t know about the teams or b. we cheer for whatever team had the most Americans. As much as Clint Dempsey seems cool I’m not routing for Fulton because of him.
So for me I had to factor about 6 things into my decision on picking a team to follow:
MLS is not a good enough league to get me more involved with soccer so scratch that. You have to identify with a league that you actually know about. You have to know more than three teams, so German league Bundesliga is out. Serie A is cool but the way they move teams in and out of the A and B leagues is confusing, out. La Liga was a tough call, lots of star power, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, Diego Forlan, but really you only know FC Barca and Real Madrid. Juventus and Atletico Madrid are major programs but the league is like Baseball there’s the Yankees, Red Sox and everyone else.
(Granted I’m a Yankees fan, but it’s not good when you’re getting into a new sport and that’s what the set-up looks like so sorry La Liga you’re out).
That leaves English Premier League, or the SEC of soccer. Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City, and we know about Everton, Fulham, and Hull City thanks to our American players. DING DING DING!!!
Like I said earlier, players make you enjoy the game. I love guys like Drogba, Fernando Torres and Wayne Rooney who can find the back of the net with ease. You also got to love Tim Howard. He’s the American keeper that many people consider to be the best keeper in the entire EPL (he plays for Everton if you’re factoring your own decisions.
OVERALL TEAM LOOK
This is the feminine factor. You know how women pick their March madness brackets by team color and name (annoying I know) well that does sort of factor into this decision. I’m an Ohio State guy so anything in red looks good on me; Man U, Arsenal and Liverpool all make the cut. But you got to love some flair on your team I love the Man City light blue jerseys and Chelsea new black road set is awesome. However looks can also turn you off, Wigan that’s you.
Also name can factor into this. Do I know anyone on the Wolverhampton Wanderers? No. did I check them out because their name was cool? Yes.
This is where your friends take the role of your parents and put things into your head to sway you one way or another. My buddy Renee is a huge Arsenal fan while my buddy Danny told me to be a Liverpool fan or else, fanatics exist everywhere.
The tricky thing with this is that most of my friends like players, not teams necessarily. So I found myself trying to follow David Villa, Thierry Henry, and Luis Suarez all at once.
(Until Henry went to the MLS. Is the MLS the league where great soccer plays go to retire? David Beckham and Henry came over here past their prime almost just to check it out and see what it’s like. They get a little American sun for a year or two then roll out. Don’t be surprised if Ronaldinho, Kaka, and Fabiano Cannavaro do the same thing)
You don’t know much about Tottenham Hotspur or West Ham United. But I know Man U and Chelsea. It sucks but come on it has to factor in. no one like a loser unless you were born into it and you hold on for hope.
Apologies to fans of the Maple Leafs, Cubs and the entire city of Cleveland.
SIMILARITIES TO YOUR FAVORITE AMERICAN TEAMS
Man U is like the New York Yankees, everyone knows them and despises them. They win all of the time, 11 0f the 18 premier league titles, and are worth the most of any soccer team in the world. Man City is like the Cubs, they haven’t won an English title since the 60’s, and they came close last year only to fall short again.
Fernando Torres is like Vince Carter. Dude is immensely talented but seems like such a head case that it could eventually be his undoing. Then there’s Jozy Altidore, America’s next great hope, he reminds me of Andy Roddick, he has a lot of talent a great game, a lot of hype, but I don’t think that he’ll live up to it. We put a lot on Jozy in the World Cup and he didn’t deliver. I know he’s only 20 but you can already tell these things just by looking at him. Hull City is either going to love him or throw him off of a bridge by the time his time his up.
So after factoring all of these things into my decision I came up with 5 teams that I could pledge my allegiance to:
Like I said, they are the Yankees of the EPL. They’ve won 11 of the 18 all-time EPL titles and countless others. Also, think of the names that have played for this team, Beckham, Rooney, Ronaldo, a lot of the guys that I have actually heard of have played for them. They play in the largest stadium in the EPL and are always almost filled to capacity. Yet that’s every reason why I should hate them and it seems almost too easy for me to cheer for them.
Easy to cheer for them because they have Howard as their keeper, and Donovan was once a midfielder for them. Also they have played in England’s top league for 107 years with nine titles so they have huge staying power. Also their nickname is “The People’s Team,” that’s definitely a head turner.
Thierry Henry used to be a star for them before FC Barcelona paid a ton of money to take him away so one guy I like used to play for them. Also my buddy Renee constantly has Arsenal statuses on her facebook page so the passion for them must run deep. Also 13 premier division titles caught my attention.
(Which reminds me, there are two things I really don’t understand about soccer, one, why do they always walk out with little kids, and two, these transfer fees. Maybe they’ve never heard of a thing called free agency. Think about this Real Madrid paid Man U 80 million pounds to take Cristiano Ronaldo off of their hands, and then had to pay him. So in reality Real paid more than 150 million pounds for one guy. That makes no sense. Then again Real Madrid did the same to get Kaka for some ridiculous fee, maybe soccer is just filled with about 35 George Steinbrenners’ as owners, which makes me wonder why I haven’t watch soccer in the first place.)
Drogba, that’s it. the guy is like Jerry Rice to me. Watching him play in those recaps on the soccer channel was like watching Rice catch passes from Joe Montana on the slant routes.
Drogba in space is silly. The guy has a nose for the net whenever the ball comes near him and makes it look easy. He does what somebody told me that Wayne Gretzky used to do, he doesn’t follow the ball, he goes to where he thinks it’ll be. Hence the reason why he scored 37 goals last year and Rooney was next with 27.
The rest of the team is stacked as well, Nicolas Anelka, who led the EPL in goals last year, Michael Essien, John Terry and Andrew Cole, their loaded. However you can’t claim to love a team that just won its league’s title right? (Kyle Coleman is ready to slap me I think).
Pop culture reference. This is where Oasis brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher are from. Also Danny Kaminski told me to like them so I looked them over. Low and behold they have Torres, good or bad thing? Don’t know but I thought about it.
So after all of that looking and searching and thinking I decided that the team that I should follow is…CHELSEA FC!
Drogba did it for me, I love the atmosphere that their stadium brings, the colors, uniforms and everything, but Drogba brought me to them. There isn’t another player that made me feel the way he did and once I saw him I saw the rest of the team and fell in love.
So there you have it, after thinking and wrestling with ideas, I found my soccer team, Chelsea F.C. or The Blues if you will. All I need is a Drogba jersey and an alarm clock to watch their games at 8 a.m., the things we do for our favorite teams.