Derek Gentile: Embrace your inner soccer fan


PITTSFIELD -- Soccer will never replace football as the No. 1 sport in the United States.

File this point under facts like it’s 93 million miles to the sun or there are three outs in a half-inning. In other words, tell me something I don’t know.

I don’t understand the antipathy toward the game. There seems to be a lot of sports fans (not all, but many) who feel threatened, somehow, by the growth of soccer in America. Frankly? It’s silly.

Perhaps it’s, in part, because the crowds at big soccer matches have so much passion. In foreign stadia, one can hear them singing lustily, which we don’t do here in the states.

Certainly, American fans paint their faces and wear odd outfits. That seems to be OK. When we see a Brazil fan with a yellow-painted face or an orange-hued Dutch fan on television, that’s weird.

I have sports fan friends who admit they don’t see the attraction. At upper level matches, certainly at the World Cup level, a 1-0 or 2-1 score is the norm. How can we watch that? Nobody’s scoring!

Well, the thing is, at that high level, the ball movement is quite often so riveting that it’s a treat in itself. When a player kicks a ball to someone across the field, the ball bending in midair isn’t some optical illusion. These guys launch it in such a way that the ball hooks intentionally.

Years ago, I saw Italy-Brazil at the Yale Bowl. I still remember the great Brazilian striker Rivelino positioning his body toward the right side of the field, cocking his foot back and striking the ball so that it actually hooked to the left, toward a wing streaking down the sidelines.

One of the problems with that, though, is that most television broadcasts take in as much of the field as possible, because the ball can move from side to side on the field in an instant. So a lot of fans, especially fans who have never seen a game live, don’t really see how proficient these players are in terms of blasting a ball 35 yards downfield and striking it so that it lands virtually at the feet of a teammate on the run.

I know, I know, the name of the game is putting the ball in the net. In soccer, the name of the game is also possession. Controlling the tempo is key. So teams prefer to control the ball, probe the defense and look for an opening.

I was watching the United States-Germany game with a friend who wasn’t much of a soccer fan. My pal was frustrated when players on either team passed the ball backward to a teammate.

"So you’ve never seen Tim Duncan kick the ball back out to Tony Parker or Manu Ginobli?" I said.

"Yeah, they’re resetting the offense," said my buddy.

"Exactly," I said. "Same thing here."

I think he was secretly excited because he had gleaned a tidbit he could use at a later game.

And there will be at least one more game for the U.S., because as we all probably know, the U.S. team qualified, despite a 1-0 loss to Germany. They are, as they say everywhere else, through to the next round.

I’m excited. To me, seeing all these great international soccer stars in one place is a treat. Watching teams like Brazil and Argentina display their great facility with the game is endlessly fascinating.

The United States men may never win this tournament. But over the years, as we watch the team improve incrementally, they become a bigger and bigger factor in the soccer world. That growth is as much fun to watch as the games themselves.

Derek Gentile is an Eagle staffer. He can be reached at


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