Saw my first professional soccer game in three decades or so the other night — New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution at the new Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ, outside of Newark.
The Red Bulls won soccer’s version of the New York-Boston rivalry, 2-1, on a goal by Thierry Henry. An offside call nullified a New England goal in the waning moments of the match.
That was the MLS — Major League Soccer. Before that, my last pro soccer match was in the early 80s — the Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. the Tampa Bay Rowdies in a NASL (North American Soccer League) match at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.
In those days of the Reagan regime, the Strikers were the only pro show in South Florida outside of the Miami Dolphins. No Marlins, No Panthers, No Heat.
The Strikers played in NASL back then. And they still play in the NASL today.
But it’s a different NASL, no longer the premier soccer league in America. NASL was big time in 1980, when the Strikers advanced all the way to the finals before losing to the great Pele and his New York Cosmos.
Between 1977 and 1983, before moving to Minnesota, the Strikers had some world-class players. The legendary party boy Georgie Best played for those Strikers. So did midfielder Ray Hudson, Peruvian legend Teofilo Cubillas, and German center Gerd Muller, also known for his tennis exploits in Plantation.
The goalkeepers included Gordon Banks, the top keeper in the league his first year despite being blind in one eye, and the poetically named Jan van Beveren, the Van Lingle Mungo of soccer.
Three other versions of Strikers have called Fort Lauderdale home — representing the ASL, USISL and currently the NASL again.
Well, Spain lived up to the favorite’s role and won its first World Cup, beating The Netherlands 1-0 in extra time.
The Spanish had reached five Cup quarterfinals — in 1934, 50, 86, 94 and 2002 — but never advanced beyond that….until this year.
Meanwhile, The Netherlands are now the Brooklyn Dodgers of World Cup soccer. The Dutch made the finals for the third time, but came up empty once again. Previous losses were to West Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978.
Three random thoughts on the World Cup:
1. Thankfully somebody scored in the extra time, thus avoiding a penalty kick shootout for the championship. the way Brazil beat Italy in 1994 and Italy defeated France for the 2006 Cup..
IMHO, elimination games — and especially championship matches — should be not be decided by artificial shootouts. Go to sudden death overtime.
And if there’s a concern that the games might last too long, play the OT with less players and open up the field.
2. Go to the replay to confirm questionable goals. Hey, I’m not an instant replay freak — it’s overdone in the NFL, for instance. But it’s foolish not to use the technology that’s available today to ensure the right call is made.
Not advocating replay for offsides calls, penalties, etc. Just goals.
3. At first, we wondered what was that sound. The vuvuzalas sounded like a swarm of bees, and they were obnoxious in the beginning. But as the World Cup rolled on, they became the defining sound of the 2010 World Cup.
When in South Africa, do as the South Africans do.
American fans had plenty to cheer about at the World Cup, but at the end the US came up long on heroics but short on glory — and the quarterfinals.
They always say the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a baseball. Watching the World Cup, however, it’s plainly apparent the hardest thing to do in sports is to score a goal in soccer. There are plenty of .300 hitters in baseball, but no .300 shooters in soccer, at least none in the World Cup.
Although the United States had a valiant Cup showing with some memorable rallies to make the round of 16, their inability to avoid the early deficit doomed them in the end. Playing from behind all the time wears on a team, and it seemed like the US was always playing catch-up, even in group play where they beat Algeria 1-0 in overtime on a goal by Landon Donovan, below right, in extra time to avoid elimination.
The US team played 390 minutes of soccer in South Africa — and led for just three of them.
The US had a chance to advance and perhaps gain some world recognition, but once more failed to take that next step. The 2-1 overtime loss to Ghana was disappointing, especially when one considers the USA has nearly 15X the population of that tiny African country. The same Black Stars that knocked out the US in 2006 — and by the same score.
With so many other team sports in America, it’s no surprise that soccer has never really caught on in this country. Oversaturation will do that, and there are just so many sports Americans can absorb.
At the end of the day, the US team still has work to do in order to reach world class status. The last (and only) time the United States even made it as far as the semifinals was in the first World Cup in 1930. They were beaten 6-1 by eventual champion Argentina and finished third that year, and they haven’t been that close in 80 years.
As the New York Daily News said: “Going, Going, Ghana.”
Play in the World Cup is certainly dramatic, but FIFA must get with the real world and use available technology — at least for goal-scoring plays. Not a big advocate of instant replay for offsides and penalties.
But the whole world saw England score a second goal against Germany — everyone but the officials on the field. At the very least, position a goal judge directly behind the net to make goal calls and avoid controversy.
The Germans would argue the call makes up for 1966, when England’s Geoff Hurst (Sir Geoffrey Charles Hurst) scored a controversial goal in overtime against West Germany at Wembley Stadium to spearhead a 4-2 triumph and Britian’s only World Cup. Hurst remains the only player to score a hat trick in a World Cup final.
Heck they even had video replay 44 years ago, as this You Tube link attests. You make the call.