Deflated

Last night, after giving up hope that any more trick-or-treaters would come, I settled on the couch with a virtual stack of online papers and turned on the TV for background noise. The LA Galaxy was playing the Seattle Sounders in an MLS playoff game, and I watched that intermittently while most of my attention remained on my work.

Oooooph!

It’s been roughly a month since J and I went to our last New England Revolution game of the season; we skipped their last home game to go to the Keene Pumpkin Festival instead. Already, soccer seems a distant memory, a summer-time sport in a season deeply slanting toward cold. Once the Revs were officially out of playoff contention, J and I quickly lost interest in following the rest of the league, and the same is true of baseball: now that I’m no longer rooting against the Yankees, I have little interest who wins the World Series. Now that the days are waning and the cold is coming, my attention has already turned to hockey and basketball, with only mild interest remaining in all those other teams playing all those other sports.

Shalrie vs. Becks

For this reason, it was interesting last night to watch David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Edson Buddle–the stars of the LA Galaxy–play in a game where I held no allegiances. Beckham’s hair is longer and scruffier than it was the last time I saw him play in-person, back in 2009; this year when the Galaxy played in New England, Beckham was injured and Donovan was absent, disappointing fans who had showed up strictly to star-gaze. But apart from noticing superficial differences between Beckham-then and Beckham-now, last night I watched the Galaxy beat the Sounders the way an indifferent or only occasional fan would, looking from my laptop screen to the TV screen and back again, only half-interested in the game itself.

Now that it’s the off-season for my local MLS team, my interest and allegiances have moved onto other endeavors. To the Galaxy, Sounders, and other MLS teams still in playoff contention, may the best team win. For me, the off-season is about focusing on other fields of play.

Today’s lead photo of a deflated soccer-print beach ball comes from a dog-walk this weekend; today’s other photos come from the match in 2009 when Beckham, Donovan, and the rest of the LA Galaxy came to town, beating the Revolution 2-1.

Try to stop him

On this Super Bowl Sunday, while a huge percentage of Americans (including folks who don’t watch football any other day) will be riveted by today’s NFL match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, I’ll be thinking ahead to another kind of football. After last year’s Super Bowl tragedy, I find myself indifferent to a game that doesn’t feature the New England Patriots. Yes, I’ll watch the Super Bowl to see who wins and to see this year’s batch commercials, and to those of you who are Steelers or Cardinals fans, I can sincerely say “May the best team win.” But ever since the Patriots were eliminated from play-off contention this year, I’ve found my interest in NFL football has gone dormant for another season. Right now, instead of feeling fanatical about the Super Bowl, I’m looking ahead to the “football” offered by Major League Soccer.

Fast and furious

When J gave me tickets to a half-dozen New England Revolution games last Valentine’s Day, neither one of us were soccer fans. We knew only the most boneheaded basics of the game: namely, that you try to kick the ball into the other team’s goal. But everything else was new to us. Over the course of those half-dozen games, we acquired a working knowledge of how soccer works. We figured out, for instance, that the game clock runs up rather than down, a mysterious thing called “stoppage time” takes the place of time-outs, and red and yellow cards serve the same purpose as do penalty flags in football. Although we’d heard folks refer to all of these (and other) aspects of the game, we didn’t really “get” any of them until we sat through a few games, watched what the players were doing, and cheered or booed when the folks around us did.

Matt Reis gets his kicks

J and I learned the rudimentary rules of soccer, in other words, by immersion: we went to games, lived by the philosophy of “when in Rome, cheer like the Romans,” and took care to eavesdrop when fans around us explained the game to their newbie friends. (Thank goodness, for instance, for two separate Irishmen who sat behind us, accompanied by American friends, and provided meticulous play-by-play commentary during several of our first games.) We approached soccer games as an anthropologist might: not as a set of rules to be memorized but as a social phenomenon to be observed. At any given sporting event, there’s the stuff that happens on the playing field and the stuff that happens in the stands, and if you really want to understand a given game, you need to watch both. Soccer (not unlike football, baseball, basketball, or hockey) involves much more than a bunch of players working up a sweat trying to score goals, runs, or baskets. Soccer (not unlike football, baseball, basketball, or hockey) is a social phenomenon–a kind of delicate dance–whereby you declare your allegiance to one set of partners and engage in a friendly fight against those identifying with another. The point of any game is as much that act of allegiance as it is whether your team “wins.”

Fancy footwork

This is why J, who grew up in Pittsburgh, doesn’t necessarily care whether the Steelers win the Super Bowl today. Although he’s not antagonistic towards Pittsburgh teams, he’s lived in Boston for more than a decade and thus roots for New England sports teams now. When in Rome, cheer as the Romans do: when we watched the New England Revolution play the Columbus Crew, for instance, I rooted for New England even though I was born and raised in Columbus. All else being equal, you should dance with who brought you, but if you aren’t with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Cheesy cliches aside, J and enjoyed attending last year’s Revolution games as a way of supporting a local team even if we weren’t exactly experts when it came to the sport they were playing. Regional team allegiance came first, and understanding the subtleties of the sport gradually followed. There is, after all, a certain excitement in figuring out the language and customs of a strange-to-you sport as you go along.

Edging toward the goal

So when our friendly New England Revolution salesperson asked if we wanted to buy a multi-game ticket package for the 2009 season, we said we did…and this week, after learning that this year’s Revolution schedule is stacked with weekend home games, we decided to upgrade our multi-game package to a full set of season tickets. That means J and I will be attending 15 New England Revolution soccer games at Gillette Stadium this summer, along with an additional handful of special events (schedule to-be-determined) over the course of the season. Fifteen-plus soccer games means J and I will have that many more chances to improve our soccer fluency, and it means we’ll see all the spectacles worth blogging about, including the game when David Beckham comes to town. J and I might be soccer newbies, but even we know a superstar when we see one.

Beckham, etc

Apart from that last photo from last August’s game against the LA Galaxy, the other photos illustrating today’s post come from Revolution victories over the Houston Dynamo last March and Toronto FC last June. At this point, I’m itching to see green turf, even if it’s artificial.