ESPN's Bill Simmons, also known as the "Sports Guy," serves as the snide and opinionated voice for millions of American sports fanatics. After spending his career so far musing on mainstream American sports, he's turning to soccer, a sport that represents a strange new world for him. Reporting from Azteca on last week's World Cup qualifier between the USA and Mexico, Simmons gives a unique take on the experience, fandom in Mexico, and the state of soccer in America.
Simmons writes of his new attraction to the sport: "What the hell was happening to me? Why was I starting to get hooked by soccer -- a sport I have never totally liked and even actively hated at times? Was this an extremely early midlife crisis? And if so, why soccer of all things? Couldn't it have been a Porsche or an 18-year-old Starbucks barista?"
On the game: "Watch Mexico play, and you end up thinking, "Why doesn't everyone play that way? It looks so easy!" It comes down to a catalyst and a mindset; if you're missing both, you can't pull it off. In basketball, think of the teams that play beautifully together (like Duncan's Spurs or Nash's pre-Shaq Suns) versus stagnant offenses that stand around watching their best player go one-on-four (like LeBron's Cavs). You might win going one-on-four; you're just making it harder on yourself, that's all. Same goes for soccer ... and unfortunately, the Americans lapse into soccer's equivalent of the one-on-four offense too often. You know it's happening when they lose patience and forget about controlling the ball; you know it's happening when they repeatedly sail passes downfield with no rhyme or reason; and you definitely know it's happening when the defenders seem jumpy. The best soccer defenders clear out a play, then hold the ball for that extra second or two as they size up the field for a counterattack. In Mexico, the jumpy Americans handled these situations like they were dumping a hand grenade. I gotta get rid of this thing! That guy's coming right at me! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"