This has been a great summer for sports.
The Copa America finished last night with a rousing final, the kind of game that has everything – brilliant play, incomprehensible refereeing, stupid fouls, elegant tactics, and just when you thought you were going to get a satisfying end to the game you were granted a ringside seat for the absolute farce of deciding a championship on penalty kicks. Seriously – it’s like flipping a coin to decide the Republican nomination for president, which, admittedly would have worked better than the tragic opera that they got this year so perhaps that wasn’t the best analogy to make my point after all.
I enjoyed watching the various games as much as I could in and around the demands on my world. The US didn’t do too badly, coming in fourth – only the second time in a hundred years that they’ve managed to get to the semi-finals. Hey – we can run with the Medium Dogs now. The US did a good job against the second-tier teams, but then ran into Argentina and pretty much what you expected to happen when the #31 team in the world faced the #1 team in the world is what actually happened.
The Copa games were generally more entertaining than the UEFA Cup games.
The European games have been slow tactical matches with not much in the way of scoring or even bright play, while the Copa games were fast, physical, and at one point I watched Chile beat Mexico by a touchdown. That doesn’t happen often at this level of soccer.
But I’ve enjoyed the UEFA games also.
England has gone out of Europe in the more usual way now, defeated by Iceland today – a nation roughly the size of Leicester. Germany is beginning to look like the team that won the World Cup last time around. Wales is still hanging around – it amazes me that the UK gets to field four different teams, though this may become significantly less amazing in the very near future, sadly enough. Hungary did a nice job there for a while, and even Albania got a win in the group stage. You have to appreciate that.
So it’s been a good sports summer as far as I am concerned. And there’s still more UEFA Cup to go. Plus, if everyone doesn’t pull out because of fears of Zika virus or get banned for persistent flagrant doping like the entire Russian track and field program, and if there is some kind of construction-based miracle that allows the facilities to be completed sometime before 2028 despite rampant corruption, extreme cost-overruns, and general unsavoryness above and beyond the usual sleazeball aspects of anything connected with the IOC, there will be an Olympics this summer as well. I like the Olympics. It’s a festival of weird sports, and that has to count for something in this buttoned up world.
Also, I understand that Cleveland won a championship in something not long ago. Is that allowed? Did anyone else hear of this? I may have hallucinated it.
Way back in the prehistoric days of the internet, circa 1998, ESPN ran a 20-part series on “The Most Sports-Cursed Cities in America.” Being from Philadelphia, I figured we had that one in the bag but we came in second. Second! Who, I wondered, was doing worse then us?
Well, Cleveland, of course.
Okay, I said. I’ll give you that one.
So it’s nice that they won something. I hope it was in a sport that people in Cleveland like.
I will stick with my soccer for now. It seems to have become my sport these days. Baseball I can only watch when I’m actually in the stands. American football has become too much like cockfighting for me to enjoy the way I used to, though I still watch it. Curling I can never find on television. Hockey still gives soccer a run for my attention, but in the grand American scheme of things I’m not sure that’s any help. I am what I am.
The first time I ever went to a professional soccer game I must have been about ten or so. This was during one of several attempts to bring league soccer to the United States, back in the mid-1970s – an attempt that was met with colossal indifference by most Americans and eventual failure on the part of the league or leagues involved.
I suppose I should have seen that coming even at the time.
The Philadelphia Atoms played from 1974 to 1977, after which a new team called the Fury played from 1978 to 1980 (thank you, internet sources). I can’t even recall which team we saw, though I am pretty sure it was the Atoms since I think the draw that night was the Brazilian player Pele, who played for the New York team and retired in 1977, an old man cashing in on Americans in the twilight of his career, and good for him.
I do remember that we would get in free if we gave them an empty can of Doctor Pepper. So on the way down to Veterans Stadium – my dad, a West Philadelphia native, would never take the highways down to the stadium but would instead wiggle his way along the side streets of West Philly past many a little grocery happy to sell us a sixpack of whatever we wanted – we bought some and sat there in the parking lot drinking warm Doctor Pepper to empty the cans.
Why it didn’t occur to any of us to just dump the stuff in the sewer I don’t know.
But we made it to the stadium, presented our cans, received a hands-width-sized imitation soccer ball as a door prize, and trotted down to our seats.
There must have been two hundred people in that stadium. We could have had an entire section of seats to ourselves if we had wanted. Yeah, it wasn’t a surprise when they folded.
I don’t remember the game much. If the article I found on the Atoms and Fury is correct they probably lost – the Atoms stopped being talented in 1975 and the Fury never started.
We never went back.
I didn’t really become a soccer fan until a few years ago. I enjoyed the US Women’s Team in the 90s, and I have fond memories of being in a bar in Iowa City during the Men’s World Cup in 1994 when Brazil beat Italy despite my friend’s constant shouting of “I-TAL-IA! I-TAL-IA!” to a room full of Brazilians. But somewhere around 2010 I started watching it regularly, and now it’s my go to sporting event. I even bought a Philadelphia Union t-shirt when I was back there last month. I hope they last longer and have more success than the Atoms or Fury.
There’s been a lot of good soccer this summer.
It’s been a good summer that way.