Soccer - It's taken over my life (temporarily)

USA goalie, Tim Howard makes one of his fantastic saves

USA goalie, Tim Howard makes one of his fantastic saves

We didn't win, but we sure made it exciting. The United States was eliminated from World Cup competition battling Belgium who beat the Americans,  2-1 in the Round of 16, with all  the goals coming in extra time. It was a nail-biting thriller from beginning to end.

 I owe you all an apology. I should have been writing about the economy, local politics, new films etc. but I've been watching  The World Cup, and not just the USA, but all the matches. I love The Beautiful Game. I used to get angry when people put down the sport, but then I realized that you can' t appreciate something you don't understand.

Years ago, Bob Newhart did a routine where Abner Doubeday called a game manufacturer to try and sell a game he had invented. The guy on the other end of the phone is a little surprised that you can't  play it the house and need 18 men to play a game in which a pitcher and catcher toss a ball back and forth and another player tries  to hit the ball, depending on whether it's a "ball" or a "strike". You realize how silly the description sounds and how boring it might be to a spectator who has no real idea of what's going on.

So it is with soccer. I  knew nothing about the sport until our #2 son, Kerry, started playing in Junior High School when he was about 12 or 13 years old. Then the 4th "K", Kent,  took it up, and eventually became a high school All American in 1975. He was fortunate to have Tony Schinto at New Trier East High School as his coach. Schinto arranged a trip to Brazil in the summer 1974 and the boys played in both Sao Paulo and Rio de Janerio. They came back with an appreciation of what poverty was really like. There isn't a lot of it on the North Shore. They saw kids who couldn't afford a real soccer ball and played with rolled up newspapers to kick around. They native kids had no uniforms and by the time our boys got home they had given away most of their cloths and soccer equipment.

Kyle, who born in 1962, became a goalie for New Trier, and thanks to another trip arranged by coach Schinto, played in Germany and England, before his parents had even ventured to Europe. He went on to have a successful stint as goalie for the Western Michigan Broncos in Kalamazoo, and did a lot of coaching for younger kids in  Winnetka.

When this all started neither my wife, Sheila nor I knew anything about the game, but naturally you want to support your kids so we leaned the basic rules, went to practilly all their games and became fairly knowledgeable. I used to love it when my wife explained what "off side" was to those dads who really knew nothing about the game. Let's face it, you can't enjoy the game if you don't understand it.

First there's the athleticism. You play two, 45 minute halfs, running constantly with no time-outs, except for the occasional injury or substitution interruption. If you are taken out of the game, you cannot return. And only three substitutions per team are allowed. There's so much more to watch than just the guy with the ball.  Watch how players constantly move so they can receive passes. When a player is fouled, his team gets a free kick from the spot of the foul and how both offense and defense line up can be intriguing.

Goalies are a joy to behold. As I mentioned, we raised  a "keeper". This is one of the best and worst positions to play. He's the only player who can use his hands and he can't just stand in the goal, but has to for see how the attacking team is setting up to try and score. On corner kicks he must be agile and be able to leap into the air and snag a ball. If the opposing player dribbles the ball too far ahead, he must decide instantly if he can get to it first. And, he has to constantly talk to his team mates and let them know what he's going too do.

If you'd like to enjoy a soccer game, go with a true fan. Ask questions. Learn as you watch. Who knows? You may come to like it. Sunday, July 13th will be the championship game, but there some great matches coming up: Brazil/Columbia and France/Germany this Friday; The Netherlands/Costa Rica and Argentina/Belgium on Saturday; The semifinals on July 8th and 9th leading up to the Final game on July 13th,

Sorry, I'll be busy for another week.





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