Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chad Ochocino Plays Futbol, the Beautiful Game

Chad Ochocinco has been awarded a reserve spot, or “honorary” membership, on MLS squad Sporting Kansas City. The limited ground view highlights I have seen of his recent reserve game match do not reveal the wide receiver’s true soccer ability. I suspect that this NFL star can hold his own physically, but his technique may need some fine-tuning.

Soccer players do not receive the credit they deserve for their superior athleticism due to the fact that no one cares about the game in our country. This is a sad truth. You ask why? It is not sad because the game is due our respect or attention, but because we, as a country, can become world powers almost immediately.

This is not to suggest that we could easily win the next World Cup-that would be too arrogant an expectation. The game requires incredible footwork, the likes of which are not readily apparent in our sports-football, basketball, and baseball. Steve Nash’s ability to get to almost anywhere on the basketball floor is a credit to his soccer playing days during his youth in his native Canada. Our athletes would certainly need a few years to hone their fundamentals.

I am suggesting, however, that we, as a country, could win every single World Cup after 2014.


I understand that the soccer-loving community, of which I am a part, will cry for a yellow card upon hearing such a bold analysis. Americans and foreigners alike may dismiss this claim as typical bravado from someone who does not know anything about the world’s sport.

The fact is the U.S. has the best athletes in the world, if only because we have one of the world’s largest populations and, football. We have generations of kids who have several sports from which to choose; the very best becoming professionals. We are, indeed, an athletic bunch. If we can get the athletes like Ochocinco to concentrate on soccer, dedicating their summer vacations to the ‘pitch’ while dribbling the soccer ball with the same ease as a basketball, we would surely dominate. The best soccer players in the world, as extremely athletic as they are, are not physical freaks. If I did not know any better, I would think Ochocinco was the best player on the field, based on appearance.

This is not hockey, where the ice bridges the gap from athletic phenomenon to excellent ice skater, which is why I would not suggest we Americans can dominate that sport as easily. This is soccer- 22 players on a pitch that is wider and a bit longer than our football fields. This setting allows for speed, an asset of which we have plenty, and power, a trait found in 99% of our pros, to combine with finesse, a characteristic, unfortunately, most commonly associated in sports with weakness. This is why we ignore it.


Finesse is not macho, or American. It is for chumps. At least until someone like Ochocinco, or Kobe, or D-Rose (can you imagine trying to stop him, if he could dribble the same way as Lionel Messi?), or DeSean Jackson decides that finesse, when used appropriately, can be as overpowering as all the speed and power in the world. Then the wall between football player and futbol player will slowly diminish, piece after piece, star after futbol star. It will be accepted to be a futbol player, unlike nowadays where soccer players are seen as having some medical condition. He plays what? Soccer? Something must be wrong with him.

Because of this attitude, we have yet to see our Michael Jordan sport shin guards or Babe Ruth or Joe Montana don the captain’s armband. Mike Tyson has not lined up for a penalty kick or, more appropriately, shed the goalie’s jersey after a big win. We have yet to claim the best soccer player in the world as our own.

The good news for soccer junkies in this country? We are almost there. Americans love a winner. As soon as the U.S. men’s soccer team makes that jump from Round of 16 losers to Final Four participant or better in the World Cup, then we will truly see an influx of young Americans using their feet to become a professional athlete.

The problem right now? The gap between winner and national interest is too wide. The feel-good sensation each of us experienced upon seeing, or learning of, our group stage victory that sent us into the knockout stage of last year’s World Cup was too short-lived and too far in the past to inspire our young jocks.

But Ochocinco’s rendezvous with the MLS may be the butterfly’s wings that can produce an avalanche of American soccer intrigue. Maybe a person with his athleticism and flair can finally show enough of the population that this game is not only fun, but extremely challenging. Competition, which is what all competitors want, will not be hard to find, as there is no lack of green grass in this great land of ours that can be converted into a usable pitch. American youth may soon see their heroes more readily available on the television, their triumphs or defeats causing that youth’s happiness or despair, much in the same way as the NBA, NFL, or MLB. Maybe the NFL is slowly opening this door through their finger-pointing and posturing, much the same way MLB undoubtedly took for granted their following in 1994 when the inability to negotiate a reasonable agreement between players and owners led to a work stoppage which caused the World Series to be cancelled that year. How popular is baseball now?

While I do not proclaim to be an expert on futbol, or anything else for that matter, I know that the draw of this game is its simplicity. Other than staying onside, not using your hands, and not intentionally kicking your opponent in the throat, the only rule is put the ball in the net. And I did mention that Americans would need a few years to grasp the fundamentals, didn’t I?

Simple and fundamental, yet fast and powerful--that surely makes for a great game.

America embracing it as such? That would certainly make for a beautiful game.

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