Szwaja's Sports Blog

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sorry it's been so long since my last post, I've been a little busy. In the past four days I've been to my first Kane County Cougars game, the Chicago Fire/Columbus Crew, Real Madrid/Chivas doubleheader and a White Sox game. Sporting events have taken control of my life, which is never a bad thing.

The Real Madrid/Chivas game was remarkable. Kent McDill wrote a column in today's Daily Herald that said he couldn't put into words how great the match was, but I'm going to try and do my best to do just that. Let me start off by saying this: It was the greatest collection of footballers I've ever seen in person. Think the 1996 Chicago Bulls were loaded? Check out the guys who took the field for Real (pronounced Reh-ahl for all you people who still aren't down with the world's most popular sport) on Saturday, in no particular order: Ronaldo, Michael Owen, Luis Figo, Raul, David Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Ziddane Zidane and Guti. I attended the first World Cup match ever played in the United States, a match that pitted a strong German squad with the likes of Jurgen Klinsman (perhaps my favorite footballer ever) and Lothar Matthias against Boliva, led by Marco Etchevary. Real Madrid could have walked over either team I saw that day.

It was like having Fox Soccer Channel right there in front of my eyes, except of course that soccer is so much better live. On TV, it's tough to see the play develop. It's tough to grasp, for example, how hard and accurate Roberto Carlos strikes the ball. It's tough to grasp how the ball sticks on Zidane's feet like finished spaghetti sticks to a wall. It's tough to grasp the precision of Beckham's field switches that find the Adidas stripes on his teammates' boots with ease some 70 yards away. They say it doesn't get any better that HDTV. I beg to differ. It's much better if you have a seat in the stands.

The match followed the Fire/Crew match, which revealed a harsh reality. American soccer flat out stinks. Real and Chivas made the Fire, one of the best teams in MLS this season, look like Will Ferrell's "Kicking and Screaming" misfit soccer team. Sad but true. I thought Justin Mapp was really good. The truth is that Mapp wouldn't sniff either team's starting eleven. That's not to say he couldn't start anywhere else outside the US. Real and Chivas are the best teams in their respective leagues. I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Justin Mapp has some skills, but he'll never be David Beckham.

Speaking of Beckham, I was thoroughly impressed. When you hear American sports media personalities mention Beckham, all we ever hear is something like this: "David Beckham, sure, he's the most popular athlete on the planet, but he's not the best soccer player in the world by far." Well, that might be somewhat true, but he's pretty damn good.

The American media dubs Beckham as overrated simply because they're ignorant. Truth is, Beckham isn't a scorer, and somehow that automatically makes him the male equivalent of Anna Kournikova in the minds of so many. Well, you don't have to be a scorer to be a soccer star.

Maybe I like Beckham so much because he reminds me so much of myself. Too bad the girls don't see the resemblance. Joking aside, I don't have the golden locks, the six pack and I can't bend it like Beckham, but I have always taken pride in my crosses and my ability to find an open teammate, wherever he is on the field, whether it's six or 60 yards.

When I saw Jordan live, I always hoped I would see him pull off one of his signature dunks. Whne I saw Gretzky live, which only happened once, I wanted to see him nifty-stick his way through a few opponents, then beat the goalie's glove side. When I see Frank Thomas live, I want to see him send a ball 20 rows deep in the bleachers. On Saturday, I wanted to see Beckham set up a couple goals with his uncanny ability to serve the ball. That's exactly what I got.

Real's first goal in their 3-1 victory came on a free kick from the right flank, taken by Beckham. He approached the ball, bent it into the box in perfect Beckham fashion, and found a teammate's head. The second goal might have one-upped the first goal. Beckham got the ball right in front of the Chivas bench, probably about 15 yards short of the halfway line, then sent one of the most beautiful balls I've ever seen to Raul on the corner of the penalty box, probably about 75 yards away. Raul headed the ball back into the middle, and Guti half-volleyed it into the bottom right corner from about 25 yards out. It was one of those goals you see on those "Soccer's Greatest Goals" DVDs, and I couldn't believe how priviledged I was to have seen it live.

Beckham's intensity and competitiveness also fascinated me. He was in his teammates' ears when they made poor decisions. He screamed at the ref as if he was playing for a Champions League title. In reality, he was playing in an exhibition match that meant nothing. Still, he wanted to win ... badly ... so bad he gave his body up on 50-50 balls on numerous occassions. At no time did he hang back with a fear of getting injured, and he didn't treat the game like a joke. As a customer who paid top dollar, he did his best to make sure I got my money's worth, and I certainly did. I always found it a little insulting when our greatest athletes make mockeries of our most popular exhibitions: All-Star Games. When Randy Johnson throws at John Kruk's head, then laughs about it, I think, "Hey, Unit, I'm not watching to see you take Kruk's head off, I'm watching to see you strike him out." When I see Tracy McGrady throw what appears to be an alley-oop to Kobe Bryant but instead ends up being a pass to Jay-Z in the third row, I think, "Play the game that made you an All-Star, not the game that makes you look like an And-1 All-Star wannabe." That's not Beckham. Beckham is the one who would try to take Johnson's next pitch over the wall, then stare him down as he starts his home run trot ... in an exhibition game. Beckham would be the one completely shutting down McGrady with great defense ... in an exhibition game.

Beckham again spoke of his desire to make soccer a major sport in America some day last weekend. As much as I love soccer, I'm not a believer. Not even Mr. Beckham can take it to the next level, but if he goes about his vision with as much as intensity as he showed me on Saturday, you never know.

That's it for now. Coming up later in the week, my Derrek Lee is not human and the NHL is back blogs. Thanks for reading.


Post a Comment

<< Home