How I Enjoy Soccer — as a Hockey Fan

This will be me…at about 3:00PM PST after the #USMNT DESTROYS the Red Devils. Except I’ll be in red, white and blue. Stars and stripes. Oh, and I’ll probably be at work. ‘Merica!

It seems I’ve abandoned this blog again. And it seems I’ve opened up many of these blogs posts with the same exact introduction. But over the past few resurrection posts, I’ve noticed one thing: it takes something really, really special to inspire me to write anything meaningful. And this, my dear friends, is most definitely a meaningful post. It’s a post about the world’s game. So please, proceed…

I am a sports fan. Huge sports fan. And I’m a fan of watching professionals play at the highest level at the top of their game. Hell, about 4 years ago, I even watched Olympic Curling in Vancouver. What is curling? I don’t know. I still don’t even understand the game. But I know I was set on watching curling because NBC decided to show every curling match before every hockey game. So I had to watch curling to make sure I didn’t miss hockey. That doesn’t mean I didn’t watch the actual curling match….and maybe, dare I say….enjoy it?

Lies. I haven’t watched a curling match since.

I’m not going to sit here and act like I’ve been a huge soccer fan my entire life because that’s a whole lot of crap. I played exactly one soccer game in my lifetime, and it was during an intramural game in college. Some of my guy friends were on a co-ed team, and the one girl on their team couldn’t make one game. So they asked me to sub. So I did. They also asked me to do absolutely nothing. So I didn’t. I just stood there. And we won. Soccer is awesome.

However, I will sit here and tell you that I’m not your typical casual American Soccer (futbol?) fan.

I know soccer. I understand it. I may not know the intricacies and complexities like I do football and basketball, but I can tell you what’s going on. I can see plays developing, sorta. I understand some strategies and tactics, sorta.  I may not know all the players and teams (save for the big names – Messi is one of my top 3 favorite athletes in the world), but I can point out when a player is having a good game or struggling.  I may not watch soccer year round, but I’ll watch important tournaments like UEFA Champions League Final. And every four years, when the World Cup is on, it’s all my world revolves around for a month. I still remember the exact bar I snuck into during work hours in 2010 when Landon scored the goal against Algeria to advance out of the group. And it’s not just USA games that I care about, I’m watching all of them.

I’m not writing this post to prove that I’m a soccer fan. The truth is, I’m not. Well, I’m not a huge fan. But I appreciate and respect the game, and I think I could like it even more. Just at this moment, I’m not a soccer fanatic.

I am, however – a hockey fanatic.

Why do I bring this up? Because unlike the casual American Soccer fan who are just now understanding how you can get heart palpitations from watching a match*, being a hockey fan has already prepared me for the heart-pounding, over-the-top dramatics that occur during the World Cup.

*Raise your hand if your blood pressure went up slightly once you saw Ghana score a goal last Thursday. So that feeling? Completely normal.

Look, I’m just like you. An American soccer fan who has become enthralled with the US Mutant Ninja Turtles – ahem, Men’s National Team. And I know some of this drama during the last 3 matches might have felt a little unnerving. But I’m here, as a hockey fan, to help you out. Give you some tips on how to enjoy the match and make sure you don’t die.

Tip #1: Goals are not the only exciting part of the game. Learn to appreciate passing. It’s strangely calming and therapeutic. 

There are ebbs and flows in soccer the same way they occur in hockey. The scoring is low, so you have to find other ways to enjoy the game if all you care about is the score. For this to happen, you have to watch for the ways in which the attackers work to open up the defense. The best players in the world know how to do this efficiently and creatively and capitalize on defensive mistakes resulting in a score.

Some people may not get excited by the way the ball or puck moves across the pitch or the ice, but those are some things that make them both so beautiful. There’s something intrinsically affecting about a cross in soccer or a stretch pass connecting the far blueline in hockey. Only the top .01% of people in the world can create those types of plays. Admirable, to say the least. I’m sure you’ve heard it a lot over the course of the last few weeks that soccer is referred to as “The Beautiful Game.” In that very same respect, you’ll often hear many hockey fans and writers and commentators alike describing the game as beautiful, especially with the added aspect of players moving swiftly across a smooth sheet of ice. It’s a sight to be seen.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a weird sports fan. I enjoy passing, especially when I see a very highly skilled player do it. It’s the reason why I took the time to write an article about why I love Ricky Rubio so much. Passes and assists are such an undervalued statistic in sports, but it shows the intelligence of a lot of these players. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Sidney Crosby can make slick, on-point passes because they’re not only extremely talented, but they can also see a play develop a couple steps ahead of everyone else. Granted, these guys are stars. But learning to appreciate them not only for their goal scoring prowess, but also for their extremely high IQ in their respective sports will make the game more enjoyable. I promise.

Tip #2: Accept that the best team will not always win.

As a soccer or hockey fan, you must come to terms with this very, very sobering fact: a team can thoroughly outplay another team; they can clearly be the better team for the entire game, and STILL lose. As a fan of all 3 major American sports I’ve become accustomed to the idea that the team that plays better will ALWAYS win. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the better team; it just means they played better for that particular game.

That DOES NOT happen in soccer and hockey. One fluke goal or defensive lapse, and that could lead to a team’s untimely demise. (DAMN YOU RONALDO! You too, Michael Bradley!)

This year, the San Jose Sharks played the Los Angeles Kings in a 7-game grueling first round playoff duel. The Sharks went up 3-0 in the series in game 3 on a game-winning overtime goal from Patrick Marleau despite the Kings thoroughly and noticeably dominating the OT period.

This was very similar to the way El Tri outplayed the Dutch and lost in a heartbreaker on Sunday. Unfortunately, Mexico were victims of a bullshit call thanks to an Oscar-Worthy performance from serial-flopper-extraordinaire Arjen Robben. Mexico deserved to win, especially when Memo Ochoa continued to reinforce his 2014 campaign as the most valuable keeper, maybe even player, of the tournament. Memo deserved the win the most, but that’s not how this sport works. Sometimes things won’t go your way.

Same with hockey. It can work the opposite way, too. Sometimes, the team will be playing like crap, but their goalie will play as if they’re from another planet. There’s even a term for when a goalie plays out of his mind. It’s called “standing on his head.” The opposing team can throw everything they have at a goalie, and the puck just won’t go in.

Them’s the breaks, they say.

These are some of the most harsh realities of both sports, and you’ll just have to learn to accept it. It’s as if you’ve fallen in love and got your heart shattered all within the span of a couple of hours. Don’t get mad. It’s what happens. As with love, accept it fell apart and crumbled before your very eyes, and move on.

And plus, once you learn to apply both tips 1 and 2 to your soccer/hockey viewing experience, the last and final tip will be extremely fulfilling.

Tip #3: Embrace it because it’s true. Goals are orgasmic.

I know, I know. I used my time in tip 1 to describe why goals shouldn’t be the only thing to capture your attention. But really, I’m just trying to make you a real soccer (hockey) fan. You won’t see many goals. Find other ways to enjoy the game. Reveling at passing can be one way. Also, lauding spectacular, other-worldly saves by the keeper is another*.

*Here’s some love for the hockey goalies, too.

And I used my time in tip 2 to explain why the  epic journey you’ll embark upon throughout the entire 2-hours of a match may not even be worth it because your team can STILL lose despite playing their hearts out.

But let’s face it — goals scored are the work of god. It’s probably the closest thing to understanding the miracle of childbirth. You labor through hours of agony, wishing, hoping, praying for the pain to stop. You don’t understand how something so exciting can also be so excruciatingly miserable. And every time it seems like the golden baby is finally going to arrive, you get stymied by a stupid post or crossbar, and it’s back to being stressed out of your mind.

*Probably how Chile felt on Saturday when Mauricio Pinilla did this. Godspeed, Brazil.

But then the moment is at your doorstep, it’s been building for hours. Your heart is pumping fast, your skin is flushed, your palms are clammy, you can feel it coming. You’ve been screaming expletives for the past 2 hours and no one can tell if it’s because you’re happy or mad or sad. But the moment you spent the last 2 hours waiting for is finally upon you…

GOOOOOAAAALLLL!!!

A release of emotions erupts from your being, and suddenly you start feeling things you didn’t even know existed. You never thought you could possibly feel this extreme state of bliss. You truly feel like this is everything you can ever possibly feel because the entire build up was leading to this exact moment. And it’s satisfying, to say the least.

Goals scored in soccer and hockey can be likened to a religious experience, especially if you’re watching the games with a large group of people. The collective passion is palpable. Everyone has been through the same exact highs and lows together, and the sound of communal relief and excitement after seeing the ball or puck puncture the goal line sounds like a goddamn symphony. The most beautiful symphony you’ve ever heard.

I love football. I love basketball. I love baseball.

But it’s times like the ones I described above that make being a fan of both soccer and hockey so incredibly rewarding. You don’t get much instant gratification. But hopefully, if things go your way, you get rewarded for your attrition. And the pay-off is way more satiable than any touchdown or 3-pointer can possibly be.

I think I’m more prepared for the World Cup matches because I’ve had these experiences in hockey plenty times before. Doesn’t mean it makes watching these matches any less difficult. It just means I’m living proof that it won’t kill you. It feels like it will, oh god does it ever feel like it will, but it won’t. You’ll survive.

On that note, my eyes are going to be glued to ESPN all day, and I’m hoping the last 2 weeks of delicious torment will all be worth it. I’d love for the US to play the Messi-ah. Not just because I love Messi, but also because it means the US did the improbable and beat Belgium. I believe they can do it.

I believe that we will win.

GO USA!

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