Monday, December 14, 2009

hair of the dog for your championship celebration hangover

It struck me sometime after the game yesterday that that is the sort of game which perfectly displays two things:

1) why America doesn't dig on soccer like the rest of the world does
2) why the rest of the world does

The rest of the world has given us a game where you can run up and down the field for 110 minutes, kicking a ball around, and not ever achieve the one solitary mission of the exercise. This doesn't jive with a country that loves a sport where failure to score once a minute results in a low-scoring borefest. It shouldn't come as much surprise, then, that the NCAA soccer finals are held in a not-even-close-to-full "soccer park" that seats 7,000, and the lacrosse finals are in a 68,000-seat NFL glitzpalace. A matchup between the #3 and #4 defenses in history doesn't promise fireworks.

Well, America's missing out. There's nothing like the knowledge that one solitary mistake means your doom to put your heart in your throat for two and a half hours. The confluence of historically proficient defenses puts historical pressure on those defenses, and you and I the spectators spend the whole time going "Yes...yes...NO NO, STOP THAT....ok phew...get that get that GET THAT, SHOOT DAMMIT ARGH...don't let what are you doing???....someone PLEASE NOOOO oh thank god agh don't ever do that to me get the ball NO NOT THAT WAY JUST %&$#ING KICK IT! great another corner please just grab the ball this time." At least, that was me. I don't know, maybe you have the ability to sit there in stone silence every time the ball gets close to one goal or another.

So it's a shame that America missed that one. If this was another sport, it'd have been an instant classic, no doubt. You've got the #1 and #2 seeds, two of the best defenses that ever existed, and one team looking for undefeated immortality. And then they beat the hell out of each other in the driving rain and play a game as tightly contested as it's possible to be, all the way through to the Hollywood finish.

Well, not quite Hollywood. There's no way Hollywood would have drawn up the finish quite exactly the way it was. Championships are won many ways, but not by moonshot penalty kicks that end up in the parking lot. There has got to be a less cruel way to write that story. It's not that I enjoy this title less because we won on their miss and not our score, it's just that I would have saved that particular ending for someone I hated more. Way more. I don't think I've ever seen a more miserable picture of defeat than that Akron team; when the kangaroo mascot is out pulling condolences duty, you know it's bad. And it's too bad because they were laying their guts on the line for 110+ minutes and generally acting like the dictionary definition of "worthy opponent." Sometimes the schadenfreude of seeing the other guy lose is included in the joy of winning. Not so, here.

But a national title is a national title, after all. After we managed to make a big dent in the ACC tournament last year despite losing everyone who'd ever scored us a goal to injury, I expected bigger things this season. And then we lost all our exhibition games, and left our goal-scoring mojo on the tarmac in Portland after the season-opening tournament, and tied Liberty, and things looked bleak and all underachievey and I realized I had absolutely no way to figure out for myself what was going wrong because nobody televises soccer games, and all in all it was frustrating. Trophies fix everything. And after the party is over, there's still the fun times of checking out where that trophy puts you in the historical picture. I'd go over it, but it's already been done better than I would have, so just you click on that if you want some interesting numbers. The cliffnotes version is that we're now just one shy of Indiana, which doesn't seem to think it's in line for another title any time soon as they recently fired their coach.

Babblings in bullet format follow:

- If there's one guy to feel really, really happy for, it's Sean Hiller. Guy spends the bulk of the season plastered to the bench, gets basically some garbage time in the tournament and zero minutes in Cary, and then gets called on for the penalty kick - which turns out to be the winner. Gelnovatch has balls the size of grapefruits for putting a guy cold into the national title game like that just because he scores 'em in practice. Gotta appreciate a coach who has confidence in his whole roster and shows it.

- I toyed around with the idea of suggesting in the game preview that, after playing a pretty tame, clean game against Wake, we'd change gears against Akron and try and rough it up a little bit. They hadn't faced a lot of adversity all season - you know, close games, high-pressure opponents (the MAC tournament is a joke) - that sort of thing. Maybe give them something to think about as the game goes on. I couldn't think of a good reason why that would be something we'd do - just a gut feeling - so I left it out. Five yellow cards and 32 fouls later, my gut thinks my brain is stupid. I would say we deserved the 22 fouls called on us - if some were chintzy, others were missed, so it evens out - but I couldn't help but wonder if maybe, you know, the ref would please consider calling a few on Akron too? Their official final count was 10; let's just say I respectfully disagree with such a low number.

- You know what I never said to myself or the TV during either of the two games this weekend? "Dammit, Volk." I think I swore under my breath at least once at every other player on the team for something - bad pass, missed opportunity on account of too much dicking around, crappy clear, whatever - except Mike Volk. The reason Gelnovatch's way-defensive philosophy works is because of the rock-solid Mike Volks of the world.

- Another guy that I thought played a pretty solid game was Neil Barlow. Couldn't see it on the scoresheet, obviously, because there's nothing to see there at all, but Barlow impressed.

- A friend of mine at work watched the Akron-UNC replay on Saturday and asked me if this soccer tournament wasn't really just an ACC party that we let somebody crash out of generosity. Well, yeah, it sort of tends to be that way. It's been six years since the last time a College Cup was held without at least two ACC teams. Even the field said ACC on it, as much as they tried to clean it off.

- Wooooooo!

No comments: