Technology on a Shoestring

By Paul Gardner

I have noticed -- as I was very obviously meant to notice -- that soccer’s technonerds have been at it again. Last month we got official notification of their busy-bee activities with the announcement that the MLS 2013 season will feature a brand new ball.

Well, not quite as new as all that -- it will be an updated version of the Prime ball, that was introduced for the 2012 season. That 2012 Prime ball, we were informed a year ago by the makers, adidas, was big on “accuracy, consistency and performance” under all field and weather conditions, had been developed to give the “truest and most stable flight path,” ... and, (we’re not quite finished yet) had “a matte finish designed for a better grip.”

I doubt that I fully understand all that technology or its implications but it certainly sounds like news that comes under the Whoopee! category. With all that work being done on the ball, you’d think someone would have noticed. But I can’t see that any one did. The L.A. Galaxy, which won the championship, might have pitched in with a thank you for “the help we got from the new adidas ball, without which etc, etc ...” But they didn’t. Or maybe FC Toronto, which was consistently awful throughout the 2012 season, might have cast a jaundiced eye and blamed the matte finish for their own failures. But they didn’t.

Maybe soccer balls function the way good referees are said to -- supposedly, they’re at their best when you don’t notice them. But, as far as the adidas boffins are concerned, soccer balls definitely are not to be seen as if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it items. So the well-behaved 2012 ball has been jazzed up.

We now move from the Whoopee! area into the Knock-your-socks-off category, as adidas reveals the secrets of the updated Prime for 2013: new, more aerodynamic construction engineered for increased control and consistent ball movement; cutting-edge panel bonding technique engineered to create a rounder more aerodynamic and water resistant ball for increased accuracy; matte finish and texture [providing] enhanced ball control; updated bladder increases air retention and reduces water uptake, allowing the adidas Prime to hold its shape after repeated kicks in all weather conditions.”

Well, I suppose so. We’ll see if anyone notices this time around. It might be difficult because adidas is bestowing another of its scientific miracles upon us in 2013. All 19 MLS teams will be equipped with, and therefore presumably using, the miCoach system. “This,” says a deep, portentous voice in the TV commercials, “is how the strong get stronger ... how the fast get faster ... how the smart get smarter. This is the revolution.”

Wow -- Revolution! Taking their word for it, and allowing half the season for everyone to get used to the techno-wizardry of miCoach, I’m supposing that by around the time of the MLS All-Star Game we should all be noticing how much stronger MLS players are, and how much faster and smarter the league has become.

But I’m not betting on it.

To continue my Tribute To Technology, I have a question for the scientists who, year after year, slave away on things like aerodynamics and bonding techniques. My question, without a question mark, is this: Shoe laces.

Because I do find it odd, laughable almost, that in this era of amazing advances in technology, we still have soccer shoes that only work (that is, stay attached to a player’s feet) thanks to what is basically a piece of string.

My memory of these matters goes back further than I care to discuss, but the word “laces” once meant to me both shoe laces and the leather lace that was used to close the ball’s leather casing after the bladder had been pumped up.

The ball lace invariably worked loose. I know about that because I picked up a most unpleasant injury by being lashed across my eyeball by a loose lace. Rightly and properly, there are no more ball laces. But the shoe laces persist. It’s a common sight -- maybe once a game -- to see a player kneeling down to tie his lace. Maybe the game even gets held up for the action. Never mind the extra delay when a player, for whatever reason, has to change his shoes.

Obviously, there’s something here that I’m missing. Something technological, I suppose. Most footwear -- not just sportswear -- seems devoted to the shoe lace. I’ve inspected my not exactly vast collection of shoes, and find that I have only two pairs that do not use laces.

It seems unlikely that there is an all-powerful shoe-lace lobby that suppresses all and any innovations that would replace laces. So why are we so devoted to these hardly efficient closing-devices, which break at crucial moments, which frequently come unknotted and maybe lead to dangerous or at least comical falls.

The only explanation that makes any sense is that the techies have been unable to come up with anything better. Oh, come on guys -- you aerodynamic engineers and cutting-edge panel bonders and matte finishers and updated bladder designers, you of the miCoach revolution generation ... are you going to be outwitted by a piece of string?

6 comments about "Technology on a Shoestring".
  1. Stephen Fixx, January 6, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.

    I remember MiCoach not working all that well during the MLS All Star game. Nor giving much interesting or useful data. Perhaps I missed something.

  2. beautiful game, January 6, 2013 at 9:47 p.m.

    Concerning technology, my preference would be fewer cameras at ground level and more wide-angle shots of the pitch to ensure the quality of viewing without the current hodgepodge of closeups starting with the keeper, followed by the manager, followed by the ref and crowd, and bouncing back to the game itself.

  3. Derek Dunmire, January 6, 2013 at 10:05 p.m.

    still a crab huh paulie?

  4. Ivan Mark Radhakrishnan, January 7, 2013 at 7:51 a.m.

    Adidas ‘scientists’ are simply prolonging their jobs at Global-Football and TAX PAYER’s expense. If this is ‘THE BALL’, why is it NOT STANDARD across the world?

    Adidas is the same Supplier who once 'advertised a ball 'whose design makes it easier to see'. Fantastic - ALL YOUR OTHER FOOTBALLS ARE THEREFORE FLAWED!

  5. Andrea Hana, January 7, 2013 at 2:03 p.m.

    I like the use of the new technologies in sports, including soccer. Regarding the use of shoe laces... why don't they use Velcro? If they want to go with a high tech shoe, maybe they could invent something that shrinks, contours to the foot at the push of a button. OOOOO! That would be cool!

  6. Ramon Creager, January 8, 2013 at 5:12 p.m.

    "The only explanation that makes any sense is that the techies have been unable to come up with anything better." Bingo. Shoe laces just work, and they work well. True they do break after a while. Just replace them. They're cheap. Velcro is less than ideal for a shoe; just wait until all those hooks-and-loops get choked with mud. The best I've seen is a flap that covers the laces, but the laces are still there. As for the ball, with all it's aerodynamic goodness (it's a sphere, for heavens sakes) we'll still see the same nonsense of players shooting miles off target.

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