Chacos column: Just try it! The universal taste of soccer
Enjoy the Ride
We call it soccer while the rest of the planet calls it fútbol. It’s the world’s most popular game and billions will watch it on television when the final FIFA World Cup match is played on Dec. 18 in Qatar. To put that in perspective, only millions tune in when the Super Bowl is on television, even when Tom Brady’s Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in 2015.
Despite Qatar’s bountiful human rights abuses, FIFA’s history with women’s inequality, and considering that most people in the United States struggle to embrace the sport, soccer is the universal equalizer, and we could learn a lot from it. Let’s have fun with fútbol, even if it’s only for a little while.
I’m an American soccer acolyte, having played AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) ever since I could walk. Everyone who grew up on the East Coast played at some point in their childhood, whether it was to pick dandelions like my friend Jenn or eventually play Division I in college, like many on my high school team went on to do. Soccer is where many of us learned how to play well with others and share snacks on the sideline. These are the transferable skills we’ve taken into adulthood — especially how to eat orange slices correctly.
Over the years, soccer was the unifying thread wherever I traveled. In Spain, I played pickup on the beach and ended up winning an intestinal worm for having played barefoot in the dirtiest part of town. In Jerusalem, I watched a game with a bar full of other Jews, but not with a beer on a Saturday because it was Sabbath. Even my kids played on a Nicaraguan farm with the only word in common being, “Goooooaaaal!” Economics, religion and language are secondary to the universality of soccer.
Compared to American football, soccer is uncomplicated. Most notably, there are no pauses in play. Let me reiterate for someone watching a game for the first time — there’s no time to run to the bathroom, move laundry, or grab another snack because players are on the field for 45 minutes until the whistle blows signaling the half is over. Then you can stretch for a 15-minute break. Don’t worry about missing a glitzy halftime show, there isn’t one worth watching.
After halftime, when football spectators say soccer is boring, the game truly does become more interesting. Players start to fatigue and their bodies break down because each team is only allowed up to five substitutions per game. Play is equal parts mental and physical, explaining why some players feign dramatic injuries. They need to give everyone on the pitch a minute of respite from the constant sprinting, kicking, heading, passing and sliding. The stamina and physique of professional soccer players are impressive, and all have quads the size of Qatar.
After 90 minutes of play, a soccer game often continues for a few minutes of added “stoppage time.” This is extended play added to the clock for injuries or fouls that slowed or stopped the game in regulation time. Part of soccer’s beauty is its continuous flow of play, and there are no cameras that will stop a game and overturn a referee’s call. No amount of replays will change the outcome of a call, even if the coach makes a scene yelling obscenities on the sideline. Players and spectators learn quickly that the ruling on the field stands, even the wrong ones. That’s part of the game.
Soccer is not a brute sport and that’s a good thing if you want to keep the spirit alive at every stage of life. People generally play soccer until their knees give out and their favorite jersey has become a dishrag. There are tournaments for people under 40, over 50, and in places like Las Vegas and Moab. I’m simply waiting to find a tournament near a vineyard and spa for the casual weekender. Soccer knows its audience and plays to its strengths.
Our nation’s sport of choice may never be fútbol, but we could try for the next two weeks as teams across the globe battle for the World Cup. The unintended consequence may be that we all learn a little bit more about the world in which we live and that would be a win for all of us.
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor, and some flair. She can be reached at AndreaChacos.com.
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