Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sports Talk: America's up and coming sport: Soccer

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published July 11, 2012.

I am finding myself more and more ashamed of my ignorance of one of the world’s most popular sports: soccer, aka ‘football’. In addition to growing up in a nation where the sport was always shadowed by basketball, football and baseball, soccer was never available in our county athletics.
As an adult, I am realizing what I have been missing, and apparently much of this country is as well. A study conducted by ESPN/Luker polls in 2011 shows soccer to be the second most popular sport in the 12-24 age group, right behind football, with basketball at number three.
Without purposefully planning it, I found myself in Brazil during the kickoff of the 2010 World Cup when visiting a former Casey County High School exchange student, Gui Buso. Of course, now, I realize I should have planned the trip for 2014 (or need to plan another trip??) when the event will be hosted by Brazil.
Simply being in the country that prides themselves on the sport beyond all else was incredible.  Their McDonald’s menu was even redone with a specialty “World Cup Menu”—a sandwich for every nation. No, the U.S. was not represented… You could not go anywhere without seeing people in soccer jersey. A trip to the soccer museum in Sao Paulo was included on our itinerary.
I also had the pleasure of attending one of the last games played in the famous “Maracana” stadium in Rio de Janeiro before it went under construction for the 2014 World Cup.  (We were told at the time it was the last game to be played but I cannot find confirmation of that.) See full blog post report on the event here.
Home stadium of the Flamenco, the Maracana was once the world’s largest soccer stadium seating 200,000 people.  Several renovations have brought that number down over the years and its current construction results in just over 75,000 seats, but with much more comfort.
Despite the rainy evening and the, then, close to 85,000-seat stadium being far from full, the atmosphere did not lack enthusiasm. Drums, chants, cheers… I did not know a word but still found myself attempting to sing along.
Some argue soccer to be a ‘boring’ sport. I am quickly learning this is simply a lack of understanding the sport. My husband, an avid soccer player through his youth, can easily get sucked into a game.
He always points out that his biggest beef with basketball is the drawn-out endings with time-out after time-out, where 59-seconds turns into 30-minutes.  With soccer, the clock never stops and neither do the athletes. It’s 90-minutes of sweat and action. I just have yet to learn all of the words and terminology to quite keep up.
The recent report from ESPN/Luker reflecting the youth’s rising interest in this sport excites me and seeing that Casey County is following that trend definitely excites me.
Soccer had its first season in the middle school this past spring with team members spanning from eighth graders down to the elementary level. I had the pleasure of watching their first game of the season and despite coming up short of a win, it was incredible to see the vast improvement of these young athletes from the first to second half of the game. I can only imagine how far they had come by the close of their season.
Like any sport, soccer skills take time to develop; the good news is, it is an easy sport to dive into. I remember while in Brazil, Gui told me that soccer is to them what basketball is to us: as a toddler you begin learning to dribble a ball... but in Brazil it is dribbling with your feet instead of your hands.
If you never have in the past, learn something about soccer and give it a chance for your attention. I think you will find yourself loving it more than you might expect.

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