Thursday, June 12, 2014

For World Cup and Soccer Newbies Everywhere

To the non-soccer crowd that is just as entranced by this World Cup as I am: welcome to the party. I hope you stick around.

Too much of this World Cup build-up has been characterized by the typical battles between the soccer die-hards and soccer newbies about the usual "defending your turf", "you don't know anything about these players", etc, etc. It's tedious and tiresome as always. Even when it's completely justified (cough *Mike Wilbon* cough), it still feels ancillary and unnecessary. It's given soccer fans a bad reputation as people who almost don't want to see their sport get big in the mainstream US conscience. And while some of us having an itchy trigger finger doesn't help the group, this is not a one way street. So non-soccer people, here is my advice to you:

--> Ask questions. This World Cup and the US National Team in particular have many interesting sub-plots with interesting questions to be asked. So ask them. Ask us about the tactics of the teams, ask us about the diamond formation, or the worries about Jozy Altidore's Sunderland form. It will tell us that you've done more than the basic trumpeting of popular narratives that the rest of us tired of long ago.

--> Do research. I know that seems sacrilegious, but bear with me for a second. "Research" sounds like a dirty word, but if you look up players and teams and histories when the US inevitably fails, you'll have another team or player to watch. And maybe then that is your gate to staying with the sport for more than 2 weeks every 4 years.

--> Appreciate. Appreciate what the die-hard soccer fans have done ever since the last World Cup in building up to this one.  They are the ones that watch the games no one dared to, they are the ones who woke up at 7:30 to watch West Ham play Hull in the Premier League, they are the ones who know about the names of future US stars and were just as heartbroken when the US failed in Olympic qualifying 2 years ago as they will be this summer. A large part of why you're seeing what you're seeing now is because of the work these people have done, and simply they just don't want to see the fruits of their labor eaten by people who did none of the labor.

--> Stifle your pre-conceived notions. Everything you think you know about soccer will have moments when they may be justified, and that is natural. There will also be moments when that all goes out the window. For the month that this tournament goes on, choke down on your stereotypes of soccer even when they are itching to escape, because it will help out everyone if you do.

--> Find a reason to stay. If you want this sport to get bigger, or better yet, if you don't want the angry twitter soccer crowd banging at your door with pitchforks and torches, find a reason to stick around. The World Cup is amazing, but this is not like 2002 when it was hard to keep the momentum going. The Premier League is widely available, so is the Champions League. MLS is getting a fat new TV contract next season with consistent TV windows for you to see. The internet is a treasure trove of quality soccer writing, podcasting, and analysis if you just look hard enough. You will never be wanting for the reactions and readings you'll need to gain context. And best yet, it won't come with Baylessian shouting and narrative trumpeting that would make FOX News shudder!

So as the World Cup begins, please take all of what you read above into account. We don't want people turned off of the game because of us, we just want people to appreciate and love the game as much as we do. You don't have to know the ins and outs of the tactics of Harry Redknapp by the end of the World Cup, or what transfer source is most trustworthy, just appreciate the game and what has been built slowly but surely. The game will grow without you, and you can either jump on or stand by, but do the latter at your own peril.

And don't fight us about Gus Johnson. You'll lose that one.

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