Thursday, April 22, 2010

In The National Team's Service

Of all the rules that exist across every sport, there were two that always baffled TigerBlog.

The first was in women's lacrosse, where there were no boundaries. In other words, while the lines on the field existed as a guideline, play could continue even if the line was crossed. The part that annoyed TB the most was when a pass could be missed and roll out of bounds and still be given to the offensive team.

Mercifully, the powers that be in women's lacrosse changed that rule a few years ago.

The other rule TB has never gotten - and never will get - is in professional and international soccer. Why in the world does the ref keep the time, so that nobody else in the stadium can tell exactly how much is left? And why do goals have to be scored in the 61st minute, rather than with 29:18 left?

It makes no sense to TB, and it never has. And it'll never change, TB is pretty sure.

Not that it seems to bother the rest of the world. After all, the World Cup seems to be doing pretty well.

As much as TB doesn't like the rule about the timing and a few other things about the sport - the flopping and the whole debacle of trying to figure out if someone was really offsides, not to mention how Ireland got robbed - TB does acknowledge that there's nothing in the world, sports or otherwise, quite like the World Cup.

It starts with the qualifying rounds, which even if there were no trip to the World Cup on the line would still be fascinating.

TB doesn't like all the jingoistic furor of the Olympics, which can be summed up as "why should TB care if the U.S. won in bobsled." With the World Cup, though, that whole thing seems to be lacking.

If anything, the rest of the world takes it to an extreme that is at times frightening.

As for the U.S., TigerBlog's belief is that every single kid in this country - or at least 98% - are signed up to play youth soccer, and the process begins from there.

All of youth sports in this country has been touched by the soccer model of travel teams and year-round play, for better or worse. Eventually, the better players rise to the ODP and club levels, and the national team program gets involved in identifying the best of the best around the age of 14 or 15. Eventually, the full national team grows out of this group.

There are two other things about soccer that TB firmly believes: 1) somebody is doing a great job of marketing it, especially its stars and 2) it's a nearly perfect sport for TV, with its two-hour time block and no commercials during play.

With all of that, the World Cup for TB has grown from something that TB never followed and the U.S. rarely was in to something for which TB didn't miss any of the U.S. qualifying games (except the one that wasn't televised, which was annoying) and in which TB can basically name the entire roster. TB was also glued to the TV for the World Cup draw, another great event.

Part of this has to do with the fact that Bob Bradley is the U.S. coach. Bradley, a 1980 Princeton grad, was the head coach of the Tigers when TB covered the team during its 1993 NCAA Final Four run.

TB also wrote about current head coach Jim Barlow back when he was playing at Hightstown High School on one of the great high school teams this area has ever seen. Barlow played for Bradley here and has been active coaching on the national team level, mostly with the U-15 team.

That connection has led the U.S. team to make Princeton its home for its pre-World Cup practice (why do they insist on calling it "training" instead of practice?) sessions next month. The sessions will be closed to the public, as the team works to its first World Cup game against England in South Africa on June 12.

Roberts Stadium is just two years old, and it has been earning rave reviews for its entire existence. Now it will have the honor of hosting the U.S. national team in its preparation for the biggest sporting event in the world.

The biggest names in U.S. soccer history - Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and the rest - will be on campus for a week. It's no different than having the U.S. men's basketball team do its pre-Olympic workouts in Jadwin Gym.

Of course, TigerBlog had another thought about this whole U.S. soccer situation beyond just the "how cool is it that they're coming here" factor.

Each year, TB gets information about alumni events from West Philadelphia, and he usually looks at it half-heartedly before discarding it. Even in what are considered major reunion years, only a handful of TB's college friends make the effort to get back.

Princeton, for whatever reason, is different. There is a loyalty that exists between people who went to Princeton and the University that runs deeper and lasts longer than maybe anywhere else.

That's not to say that people don't have an affection for their college or the time they spent here. It's just that it doesn't seem to be the same. Especially with athletes. And data related to annual giving percentages suggests that TB is right.

And so, when the U.S. national team coach is a Princeton alum and he needs a place to get his team ready for the biggest sports stage in the world, it's hardly surprising to find out that he chose Roberts Stadium.

Actually, it would have been more surprising if he hadn't.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My personal belief is that soccer's unusual conventions for time keeping (only the referee keeps time and it proceeds up to 90 minutes rather than down to zero) have to do with the fact that soccer is popular in many poor countries where it may be too expensive to have an American-style scoreboard. Because the referee will usually be simply using his wristwatch, it is easier for him to count up to 90 minutes rather than mentally subtract from a previously set ending time.

FIFA is, if nothing else, exceptionally politically correct and politically astute. The savvy top brass of that organization knows that part of its political support relies upon not offending poorer countries where one man with a wristwatch is the standard. Hence, no change to an American-style scoreboard or timekeeper.