Monday, January 25, 2010

Three Ideas for a Better American Soccer Fan

(Editor's Note: This post was originally published at the Westbrook Diarist on November 1, 2008.)

Being a soccer fan in America can breed paranoia. Perhaps because of its seasonal juxtaposition with football and all the instrinsic violence associated with that sport, a hint of an affinity for soccer attracts catcalls questioning one's manhood and hardiness. Moreover, critics of the sport even go so far as accusing any American who appreciates the "world's game" of being an un-American and undemocratic European socialist.

So it is that climate that I offer the beleaguered American soccer fan three ideas, an unfinished manifesto for the American soccer fan, if you will.

Talk American

My most eye-wincing experiences as an American soccer fan often occur when one of my fellow soccer aficienadoes throws out verbiage foreign to the ears of average Americans and--more important--to the culture of American soccer. (To add salt to the proverbial wound, such verbiage is usually uttered only after the mutterer has slipped into his best Madonna-esque British accent.) Therefore, American soccer fans should use language that is easily understood by the non-soccer fan in America. And speak a tongue that upholds the American soccer tradition.

American soccer fans must cave to the inherent illogic of the matter and resist the temptation to call their sport soccer, not football. Moreover, they must not refer to the sport's footwear as boots; they are cleats. (Boots are what you wear in the Maine woods to combat ankle-deep mud.) Nor should they call the game's apparel a kit. It's a uniform, nothing more, nothing less. Just like a field is a field (not a pitch). And a game is, well, a game (not a match). And whatever they do, self-respecting American soccer fans must refuse to utter some of the more ridiculous monikers of some of the teams in Major League Soccer (MLS).

Indeed, despite the appropriate cultural, geographical, and/or historical relevancy of most of the nicknames in the league, there are a few annoying nicknames that should never be uttered by any self-respecting American soccer fan. The geographical soundness of the Colorado Rapids moniker, for example, is canceled out by the ridiculousness of FC Dallas (FC stands for futbol club). And the historical relevance of the New England Revolution is countered by the ahistorical sham that is Real Salt Lake (besides referring to a royal heritage that offends this country's republican roots, Real doubly offends the "Talk American" rule as it is pronounced ree-al in honor of the Spanish soccer power Real Madrid).

Defend Major League Soccer

Speaking of the MLS, it is every American soccer fan's duty to defend the home-grown league. Unfortunately, though, such a defense is considered uncool by too many in the American soccer community. The league just isn't as good as those found in Europe, the argument goes. Which is true, though I'd argue the MLS is underestimated both as a league featuring stellar international players, as well as a developmental league for homegrown talent.

In the 2002 World Cup, for example, of the 23 players on the United States team that was narrowly beaten by powerhouse in Germany in the quarterfinals (the captain of the German team conceded in March 2006 that the Germans were lucky to win the game), 15 of them were either playing in the MLS at the time or had played in the MLS. In the 2006 World Cup, 80% of the 2006 World Cup team had experience in the MLS, which is remarkable considering an undermanned American side outplayed the eventual champions, Italy, in a 1-1 draw in the first round. (Of course, they also failed to escape the first round, but that contradicts my argument, so I won't dwell on that inconvient fact as much as the heartening result against the Italians.) And this year's Olympic squad, a team whose solid performance was outweighed by a tough group, featured a roster in which players with MLS experience accounted for 15 of the 18 slots.

Moreover, the final in this year's SuperLiga, a league made up of the best teams throughout North America, featured an all-MLS final when the New England (finally) beat the Houston Dynamo. And teams comprised of the best players in the MLS have dispatched such world powers as Celtic and Chelsea en route to 5-0 record against premier international clubs over the last five years. To be sure, the MLS can truly begin to crow when its regular teams are beating the likes of Barcelona FC, but the results compiled by the MLS's best players are nonetheless remarkable.

And finally, the league is growing. Attendance is improving (games in 2007 attracted an average of 16,770 fans, with the median attendance pegged at 15,960), the league is expanding (two teams in Seattle and Philadelphia are set to join the thirteen-team league over the next two years), and more than half the teams have constructed soccer-specific stadiums (besides representing a hopeful sign for the league's long-term viability, soccer-specific stadiums enhance the viewing experience by eliminating the football lines that mar pitches fields shared with a football team and by reducing the cavernous sensation that plague teams that share stadiums with NFL teams.

Oppose diving and playacting

The scene, unfortunately, is a common one: One player challenges another for the ball and nicks the attacking player in the ankle. To be sure, there's contact. But where there's contact in soccer, too often Oscar-worthy theatrics will follow. The aggrieved player will contort his body, his face will erupt into a grimace, and his mouth will emit a hollow howl. Once on the ground, he will clutch his ankle or knee and writhe around on the ground like a juvenile throwing a tantrum. Then, after receiving the call, he'll gingerly climb to his feet, take a few steps with a slight limp, then proceed to chase the ball with full speed not ten seconds later.

Now, I can brush aside much of the criticism haters have for soccer. I am untroubled by the common complaints that the game is boring, that the players are wimpy, and that fans are un-American (see above). The one accusation I cannot disagree with, however, is the charge that soccer players are floppers and fakers. Therefore, every American soccer fan should protest dives and play-acting with a full throat.

Fortunately, FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, has made diving a cautionable offense. But the culture still breeds such ugly behavior, and it will only leak down to the lower levels. Therefore, every American soccer fan should applaud Iranian referee Masoud Moradi, who flashed Nigeria's Chibuzor Okonkwo a yellow card for diving in the penalty box in an Olympic game this summer.

The fact that the warning was issued while Okonkwo was being hoisted off the field by a face-saving stretcher made it only that much sweeter.

(Correction: I initially defined the 'FC' in FC Dallas as "football club." It actually stands for futbol club.)

- John C.L. Morgan

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Westbrook Soccer Alumni Collegiate Report: 2009 Edition

Below are Westbrook Soccer League (WSL) alumni who played collegiate soccer during the 2009 season:

Zachary Good (WHS '08)
University of Maine, Farmington (Farmington, Maine)

Good (F) started seven games and scored one goal for the Div. III Beavers.

Zachary Johnson (WHS '08)
Lasell College (Newton, Massachusetts)

Johnson (F) started in five games for the Div. III Lasers, finishing with two goals and three assists.

Noel King (WHS '08)
University of Southern Maine (Gorham, Maine)

King (F) appeared in seven games and scored two goals for the Div. III Huskies.

Amanda Northrop (WHS '09)
Merrimack College (North Andover, Massachusetts)

Northrup (D) appeared in two games for the Div. II Warriors.

Eben Perkins (WHS '07)
Pomona College (Claremont, California)

A three-year starter for the Div. III Sagehens, Perkins (D) was named the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's (SCIAC) Player of the Year for his play throughout the 2009 season.

Galen Perkins (WHS '09)
Stanford University (Stanford, California)

Perkins (GK) did not make an appearance for the Cardinal his freshman year, though his team qualified for the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Div. I College Cup.

Travis Rand (WHS '07)
Bucknell University (Lewisburg, Pennsylvania)

Rand (D) started twenty-two games for the Bison, including the team's first-round loss to eventual national champions Virginia in the NCAA Div. I College Cup.

Tyler Rand (WHS '09)
Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)

Rand (M) appeared in six games his freshman year for the Div. II Bullets.

Emily Wight (WHS '09)
St. Joseph's College (Standish, Maine)

Wight (M) started in twelve games and had 2 goals and 2 assists for the Div. III Monks.

- John C.L. Morgan

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Welcome, Bienvenue, Bienvenidos!

Welcome, dear reader, to the Pine-Scented Pitch, the blog of the Westbrook Soccer League.

We hope you come here often to not only learn the latest news and goings-on from the Westbrook Soccer League, but also to celebrate the Beautiful Game being played everywhere from Olmsted Field to the Camp Nou.

We're busy dreaming up content and rounding up press releases, so in the meantime we'd appreciate it if you added us to your Favorites.

Until we post again, good-bye, au revoir, adios, and all that.

- John C.L. Morgan