I am not a big soccer fan. I don’t follow the MLS in any way, shape or form. I don’t put the time and/or energy into following a team from the English Premier League or La Liga in Spain or Seire A in Italy. Yet, every four years, I fall in love with the World Cup. Maybe I get drawn in by the fact that almost everyone else in the world loves it. Maybe I get drawn in by the fact that those games seem like a proverbial Game Seven either time. Maybe I get drawn in by the fact that it only happens once every four years. Whatever the reason, I find the World Cup fascinating. Perhaps, I thought to myself while driving home from work, I should not be focusing on the event itself, but rather the sport of soccer itself.
During my drive home from work yesterday evening, I was listening to Michael Kay’s radio show and caught the extreme tail end of a discussion he was having with a phone-in guest about soccer. Nevermind what Kay said about his dislike of soccer for a moment and allow me to explore my mind and figure out why I like soccer (at least once every four years).
As you could probably guess, baseball is my favorite sport. So, of course, I’m going to compare soccer to that gold standard and see how it matches up. Obviously, they’re rather different in many ways: number of men on the field, time keeping, which parts of the body to use, etc. Instead of focusing on the differences, though, I thought I’d focus on the similarities. Well, maybe similarities is being too generous. There’s one big similarity I’d like to touch on, and see if you agree.
The knock we hear on soccer a lot–and we hear it about baseball sometimes, too–is that it’s too boring and there’s not enough scoring. I, for one, don’t think a lack of scoring indicates boringness. Rather, it brings out a similarity with baseball that I think we all enjoy: baseball is as much about the anticipation as it is the action. Before every pitch hits the bat or the catcher’s glove, our minds can run through an infinite amount of possibilities as to where that ball will end up. Similarly, every time a player’s foot winds back in an attempt to strike the ball, the feeling of anticipation builds. Will the ball find the back of the net? Will the keeper stop it? Will it be deflected? The excitement that goes into that simple movement of the lower half of the leg is unique. And, because of the relatively low scoring nature of soccer (I think), the kick becomes that much more exciting. I liken that kick to the instant before the ball hits the bat. Anything can happen.
At the end of the day, that feeling of anticipation and unending possibility is what draws us in to any sport. With soccer and baseball, though, I feel it most.
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