By Paul Gardner
The recent intrusion of a black cat into an MLS game did not, I think, receive the serious attention that it warranted. The surprise factor ruled out proper analysis. Next time I think the TV analysts, I mean the really clever ones, will try to take a more tactical look at things. Though they may meet with some skepticism. Over to our commentator Peter Podsnap along with his analyst Dingley Dell during the second half of their telecast ...
PP: Yikes! What the heck was that? Was that a cat? A black cat?
DD: Yep -- but it looked offside to me.
PP: Well, it was a cat . . .
DD: OK, but you can’t just run full speed behind everyone like that. I mean, he was even behind the goalkeeper, for Pete’s sake. You can’t do that.
PP: Somehow, I wouldn’t expect a cat, even a black one, to know the intricacies of the offside rule -- plenty of soccer people find it baffling, you know.
DD: That’s all very well, but it’s no excuse. If you run behind the goalkeeper like that -- and that cat was traveling, I mean he was moving -- you’re definitely interfering with play. And trying to gain an advantage too, I’d say.
PP: Yeah, right, like the cat’s gonna leap up like a salmon and head the winning goal?
DD: Cats do not leap like salmon. They leap like cats. And they can leap pretty damn high, let me tell you. I remember seeing a circus act when I was a kid where a guy comes on and suddenly this cat comes racing in and just leaps right up on to his shoulder. Amazing. So they’re definitely what I’d call an aerial threat.
PP: This one never left the ground.
DD: That’s right. Because they never got the ball to him. Now that we’ve got the replay, you can see ... Wow! Will you look at that? That’s a hell of a diagonal run he makes. Streaks right across from the far touchline. Never hesitates. Terrific stuff. And nobody picks him up. When he gets into the six-yard box there’s not a defender within yards of him. If you don’t count the goalkeeper, who doesn’t seem to see him anyway. And you know, now I’m not so sure about the offside. It was damn close -- you can see, on this side of the field, there’s a defender who is keeping him on.
PP: Onside by a cat’s whisker, eh?
DD: You wouldn’t be so smartassy smug about this if our furry friend had scored the winning goal. If he deflects a shot into the goal, it’s a goal, you know. It stands. That’s in the rules. Cats, dogs, pigeons, duck-billed platypuses -- you name it -- they can all score goals.
PP: Duck-billed platypuses? Shouldn’t that be platypi?
DD: Maybe. I threw that in for our Australian listeners. There’s swarms of platypi there. They once threatened to take over the country.
PP: I think that was rabbits.
DD: Whatever. The thing is we’ve just had a superb example of a perfectly timed diagonal run in behind the defense. The entire defense, this time, goalkeeper and all. You don’t see that every day. I think coaches will want to take close look at this ...
PP: I doubt it. It’s bound to bring bad luck. You know, a black cat . . .
DD: That’s where you’re quite wrong. All b.s. In England and Ireland, they bring good luck. Why do you think Sunderland call themselves the Black Cats? So that they can be unlucky? And black cats are lucky in Japan too, I think. So that’s not a factor, I mean what are we talking about here - witchcraft? Let’s keep this discussion serious. You’ve got to admire, too, the way that he’s calculated that run. It’s like he comes out of nowhere, catches the whole defense by surprise, looks at first like he’s coming straight across the field, then steps into high gear for a slashing run into the goal mouth. Far too many forwards don’t go through with a run like that, they give up on it, but not this flying feline. He knows exactly what he wants to do, he’s seen the goalkeeper wandering about in the middle of the penalty area, so he knows there’s a pocket of space behind him that he can exploit. And see how his run takes him across the channels, right across those little seams in the defense -- that makes him so difficult to pick up and mark.
PP: So we’ve got a frigging four-legged animal making the play of the game, then. Is that it?
DD: I’m not saying that. What I mean is . . .
PP: Let me tell you, that critter should have been thrown out anyway. Did you see a number? Was he wearing a number? You’re not allowed to take the field without a legible number on your shirt, you know. Come to think of it, where was his shirt? Also, let me remind you that the rules specify that you must be wearing shoes. You’re not allowed to play this game barefoot.
DD: Boy, how literal-minded can you get? What happened to your imagination, man? We’ve just seen a revolutionary play executed to perfection -- speed, movement, cunning, timing, use of space, awareness, reading the game, it was all there -- and you’re nattering on about trivial rule-points. What we should be doing is coming up with a term for this play. How about the Diagonal Cat Run? That sounds good. I like that. The Diagonal Cat Run ...
PP: Sorry, we’re out of time, so let me take a moment to inform our viewers that 4-2 was the final score of this game. During our discussion of the diagonal cat run, three goals have been scored, a penalty kick has been missed, and two players have been ejected. But viewers will have seen all that anyway. Good night from me, Peter Podsnap, and from my colleague Dingley Dell . . .
DD: Diagonal Cat Run. Not bad, that. Then again, Transverse Cat Run has a more technical sound to it ...