Sunday, October 16, 2005

Today, I went to see the United States women's national soccer team take on Australia. After 90 minutes of regulation play, plus five minutes of stoppage play, the game ended in a 0-0 tie. Sounds boring, right? Not hardly. This USA team is not the team of the 1991 and 1999 World Cup or the 2004 Gold medal. This is a great team, but that team played together for a decade and this team looks like it's still getting to know each other. The first half they played sloppy and they really do need to talk to each other more, but they're not afraid to mix it up, and I'm looking forward to the road to the World Cup. The Australian team is a team to watch. They are big, fast and aggressive. Prior to this match, the WUSA team had not lost a game in its previous seven matches, and to play this team to a 0-0 tie, is impressive. Keep in mind that this US team has not allowed a goal in 838 minutes. They are currently 7-0-1 on the road to the 2007 World Cup. As the players get more comfortable with each other and the team starts to gel, we could be look at a powerhouse which should get more people interested in women's soccer.

And now, for the reason I started this posting. Soccer is not a boring sport. A nil-nil score does not mean nothing happened in the game. If when you think of soccer, you're thinking of how you played when you were in fifth grade, when the game was kick the ball and run after it. Kick the ball and run after it, then yes, that is a woefully boring game. But, when played correctly, as the national team certainly does (once they learn to TALK to each other on the field), it's a graceful, beautiful game. Unlike, most popular sports today, soccer is played with very little stoppage. Sure, the clock stops when there is an injury or free kick, but we're talking seconds here and even then the players are constantly moving. Compare that to baseball and football where play completely stops for 2 1/2 minutes every five minutes or so. Even basketball, manages to find the time to cut to a commercial every seven minutes or so. But soccer is played straight through. And at the elite level, every player is moving constantly.

Soccer is a beautiful sport to see in person, but boring to watch on television because the directors don't know how to shoot the game. They should take a lesson from video game programmers and model their shots after them. Don't just rely on the overhead camera because you're afraid that you're going to miss the ball on a cross field kick. Use more medium shots when short kicks are used and put more cameras on the field so you can cut to more close ups on a breakaway. The action on the field is exciting, but the viewer at home misses it when they're forced to see the field as one long shot. Breaking up the visuals will not only add to the action, but will also personalize each player which will help the sport, as well. Right now, there is no face of American soccer, either for the men or the women. There is no Mia Hamm who inspired a legion of little girls to wear her number 9. Think of it this way, if EA Sports decided to come out with a Women's Soccer video game, who should they put on the cover? Coming up empty? That's the problem. And, it's not that there aren't players who are good enough to land the cover, it's that, right now, there is no one person who clearly holds that position. If they want this team to capture the imagination of the public, like the 1999 team did, they need to do two things: a) win b) personalize the team.

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