If Sunday's World Cup match between the United States and Portugal hadn't ended the way it did, you likely would be reading about my cats getting spayed right now.
But, luckily for all of us in a way, the match turned out to be what they call an instant classic, so instead of getting an update on all that is new with my cats, you get my take on soccer I mean futbol. That one match reminded us the sport, although it still takes a back seat to just about every other pro sport in the States, can be a riveting, edge-of-your-seat, agony-of-defeat exhibition of stamina, grit and desire (and cannibalism, apparently).
That the U.S. didn't hold onto its lead for what would've been a second straight World Cup win last weekend is disappointing, sure, but the whirlwind of emotions that spilled from Sunday's game helped prove that soccer, futbol...whatever, can be a rush.
For that, I say, thank you, soccer. Thank you, FIFA. Thank you, wacky dedicated fans. Thank you, Tim Howard (even though you let that tying goal by you), Clint Dempsey, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez, you serial-biting goofball. And thank you, Peter Odemwingie, Edin Dzeko, Wesley Sneijder and all the other soccer-playing studs none of us have heard of. You're crazy-in shape, you play hurt and you celebrate goals as if you just won the Powerball on your 21st birthday.
We don't have to understand why there is stoppage time at the end of matches or why they call it a draw instead of a tie to appreciate what happened on the field - can I call it a field? - Sunday. The U.S., usually a Goliath in other sports on the world stage but relegated to mere David status at the Cup, was seconds from its second tournament win that would've automatically sent them to the knockout round. Knockout round...how can you not love that terminology?
The game, however, went into our version of overtime (aka stoppage time, even though the score wasn't even; I know, don't ask), where Portugal scored the equalizer to earn a 2-2 tie grrrrrr, I mean draw. It wasn't a win, but it was high drama. And we dig drama.
The World Cup, revered as a holiday in some countries, pits nation vs. nation and, like the Olympics, only comes around every four years (perhaps that's why we become so captivated?). And, like the Olympics, we see passion from these athletes on a level that can't be matched by American athletes in the sports we watch every day. Here, we have players who bring it day in and day out to earn a fat contract only to phone it in the next seven years after getting paid. And unless it's a playoff game, you simply won't witness that life-or-death attitude that is written all over soccer players' faces. These athletes play like it's the last match of their career, and the TV announcers covering them squeeze every last drip of emotion they have into calling each scoring chance. All seven of them.
Although the thriller between the U.S. and Portugal was the most watched soccer game in American history, the sport likely won't reach the ridiculous heights of popularity that American football, baseball or basketball consistently has, and we'll all get on with our lives once the U.S. is eliminated (or win it all). But there's no denying the sport has a special romance about it. Soccer isn't for everyone; we still poke fun at it here in the West, mainly because of its low scoring, but remember, we're the same people who scream like mad men for a horse to finish first. We're the same people who are mesmerized by a sudden death playoff in golf; the same people who sit for hours watching race cars go fast and turn left; the same people who cheer on Ultimate Fighters as they beat the teeth out of each other. Let's not judge.
And like those other sports, the real neat thing about soccer is you don't have to understand all of its quirks to get pulled in. Well, that and all the biting.
Bring on the yellow cards!