Xtra Points: Miss football? Try football
I don't mean to cause alarm, but in case you didn't know, there's no football this weekend for the first time since August (unless you count the Pro Bowl, but come on. Who counts the Pro Bowl?). This means, of course, that you'll have a lot of time to kill that you might not have had the last few months. Luckily, I have a suggestion to satisfy that itch for sports played on rectangular patches of grass: soccer!
For years, people have wondered when the beautiful game would go mainstream in the United States. 2014 just might be that year. In true Internet media fashion, here are five reasons why:
1. World Cup fever, baby
The world will be buzzing—albeit a little less literally without the din of 80,000 South African vuvuzelas in the background—when the World Cup kicks off in Brazil, one of the soccer-craziest countries on the globe.
The United States was drawn into a dreaded Group of Death with powerhouse Germany; FIFA's 2013 player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo; and Ghana, the two-time ousters of the Americans in the previous two World Cups.
Even if the Americans don't make a run, the World Cup storylines and drama are so rich that it's nearly impossible to turn away. Billions of eyes will be on Brazil this summer, and I'm willing to bet yours will be drawn there, too, even if it is only for the U.S. matches.
Therein lies the problem, however. Many in this great country of ours tune out of the soccer world if the national teams aren't involved. But stick with me. There's still four more reasons why soccer can capture your heart this year—if you let it.
2. A game of perpetuity
As I said above, the end of the American football season—and the associated depression that settles over us all—is upon us.
We'll find ways to carry on, of course, sated by March Madness, baseball season and a steady trickle of NFL training camp stories until our weekly Sunday appointments with the NFL return in September. But it doesn't have to be this way, not when there's soccer in this world.
If you think the NBA and NHL seasons are too long, soccer might not be for you, after all; it just never goes away. In Europe, the campaigns run from August to May. Here, the MLS season starts in March and lasts until December. Throw in international matches during the summer, and tracking soccer is a year-round proposition.
3. It's on TV regularly
It wasn't long ago that the only time I might see soccer on TV is on a random Tuesday afternoon during Champions League group play, and even then I was never sure if it was live or on tape delay or from four years ago. It made it difficult to get in the swing of soccer things.
Starting in August, though, NBC started its American broadcasts of the English Premier League. Games are mostly played on the weekend and usually get over before the main events in the fall: college football and the NFL.
FOX also has the rights to broadcast the UEFA Champions League, which pits the best clubs from around Europe (Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, etc.) against each other. These games are generally on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on FOX Sports Network and the new FOX Sports 1 and 2 channels.
And since all the stuff in American sports that makes games longer and longer (end-of-game free-throw marathons, replay reviews, extra innings, etc.) doesn't exist in soccer, the coverage is predictable (a DVR denizen's dream). The clock never stops and ties are OK, so players hit the field, run around for a couple of hours, and let spectators get on with the rest of their days.
4. World-class athletes
I don't know why—it might be the diving epidemic or simply the fact that not many Americans are accustomed to the game—but people seem to be unaware of how athletic top-level soccer players are.
From the goal-scoring strikers all the way back to the goalkeepers, it takes speed, explosiveness, aggression, strength and grace to succeed on the pitch, not to mention the ability to manipulate the ball with one's feet with equally fast, strong and skillful opponents trying to intervene.
It might be underappreciated by most, but once people start watching regularly, it doesn't take too long to see all that athleticism on display.
5. Anyone can do it
One of my favorite parts of soccer, me of the 5-foot-8-inch frame, is that people of just about any stature can find some way to contribute to a game. True, the Josh Sittons of the world probably aren't built for it, but the range of size of successful soccer players is pretty astounding.
So there they are. Five reasons (among many, many others) why soccer might finally, after all these years, catch on in the United States.
If you made it this far, I encourage you to seek out one of the growing number of games shown on American television. Saturday morning features a pair of F.A. Cup matches on FOX Sports 1 that'll probably produce lopsided score lines: Premier League club Liverpool takes on Bournemouth, a team from the second tier of English soccer, at 6:30 a.m., and Sunderland (also of the Premier League) takes on Kidderminster, a club from the fifth level of the English soccer pyramid.
For something a little more evenly matched and a lot more intense, try NBCSN at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Liverpool is back on, this time hosting fierce city rival Everton (which is the English soccer spirit animal of the Green Bay Packers, by the way) in a match with heavy Champions League qualification implications. The two sides played a highly entertaining 3-3 draw back in November, and this, hopefully, will be equally as entertaining.
This week's sports haiku
in a half: bad for the Bucks,
good for Carmelo
Tim Seeman is a sports page designer for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.