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World Cup

I am enjoying watching the World Cup, as I usually do. I look forward to the final match tomorrow. The passing is so sophisticated, and I am always in awe of the ball handling and athleticism. And I played it enough as a kid (more below) to understand, broadly, the strategies and gameplay.

I always wonder why soccer (football) is not more popular in America. I know there’s a professional league here, but I never pay attention to it.

There are two things about the game that strike me, as a typical boorish American, as weird. One is the absence of sudden death overtime; instead, they decide tie games by penalty shots.

It would be like, what if in the NBA they play a single overtime period—and then pick the winner by taking foul shots? Or, a better analogy, one-on-one? It’s just weird.

I know the NHL has penalty shots to settle ties in the regular season—but in the playoffs they still use good old-fashioned “sudden death,” a very American-sounding term!

I saw that movie in a theater, by the way. I remember it being a masterpiece—by Jean-Claude Van Damme standards.

The other weird thing is how loosey-goosey the clock is. In American sports, by the end of the game, they are measuring the time in tenths of a second. There’s tons of strategy involved in clock management. In soccer, it’s just kind of rolling until the refs blow the final whistle.

But I think the fundamental reason why soccer is not more popular in the United States... is that Americans would never have the discipline to make a game harder by refusing to use your hands!

About my childhood—my parents enrolled in youth soccer starting at age six. Here I am in June 1981:

I was always so upset that I had to tear myself away from Saturday morning cartoons to go play a game I barely cared about!

The problem reached a peak in the fall of 1984 when I was dazzled by the animation of a short-lived, Japanese-animated ABC show called Mighty Orbots.

I remember due to the timing, I always had to turn it off to get down to my game. Argh!!!

The show was typically juvenile but the animation was so spectacular—everything whirling and spinning and flashing, with a killer theme song. To this day, I’m impressed:

I remember a reviewer noting that “orbot” was an anagram of “robot,” and remarking that the show was only fit for “ormons.” (If anybody can find this review, please send it to me!)

But forty years (!) later I am glad for all those hours I spent playing youth sports. I remember a lot of my teammates, the refs, the coaches, the fields (behind the post office in Vineyard Haven)—even some specific games and incidents. It was good, as they say, for building character.

Here’s something I remember like it was yesterday:

There was a girl who played in our league (as a few did) who was a very good player. One time she was defending one of my classmates—who was a fierce and strong athlete, kind of a bull on the soccer field. I usually hated to guard him because he would just run you over. But for a big, strong kid, he had a wry sense of humor.

This girl was defending the boy so well that he finally got so pissed off he just pushed her away and screamed, “Get off of me, you tomboy!!!”

It was worth the penalty.

I don’t know how people would take that today—but at the time, it was meant, and taken, as a compliment. And it left an impression on me, all these years later.

I like to think that, despite being one of the smallest kids my age, I was a fairly decent player. I was well coordinated (which helped a lot in baseball, still my favorite sport—I could make better contact than a lot of bigger kids) and I would make up for my lack of size and strength through anticipation.

I mean, I could track tendencies of how the other kids would dribble and attack, and just wear them out as a defender by taking away their go-to moves. (We were all in grade school, so none of this was too hard to figure out.)

Because soccer was so often played at school—in gym class and recess—it was good to feel like I could hold my own and be included with the other kids...which, as a “geek,” I often was not.

And today, it is a good feeling knowing that if there’s ever some random event where people throw out a ball—a basketball, baseball, football, soccer ball, anything—I can join in and have fun.

So thanks, Mom and Dad, for my forced athletic education.

And today, I can watch Mighty Orbots any time I want, with the other ormons!

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