The World’s Game According to Us

When we were 13 and traveling on a bus full of other 13-year-olds to soccer games, we engaged in all sorts of juvenile practices: the wedgie, the spitball and the pressed ham. We never thought we could use this tasteless behavior during the games. How foolish we were. Catania coach Walter Zenga harnessed the power of adolescence the other day. Some of his players dropped their shorts during a free kick in order to distract the goalie. It worked. They scored. As we’ve joked in this column in the past, soccer is for babies. Like any beautiful, global, multi-billion-dollar endeavor, it is swimming with teenage antics, like mooning the keeper, or throwing coins at opposing fans, or threatening to beat up the opposing coach because you think he cheated 22 years ago, as Scottish assistant Terry Bucher did on Monday. Bucher was the captain of the England team that lost to Argentina in 1986, and he’s still seething about the Hand of God. “I will never forgive him,” Bucher said of Argentina’s coach Diego Maradona ahead of today’s Scotland-Argentina friendly. “I think I’m 4-1 to get a red card in the tunnel. It would be the fist of Terry Butcher rather than the hand.” Maradona shot back, saying that England’s 1966 Cup victory came from a goal that wasn’t a goal ( Geoff Hurst‘s extra-time winner against Germany). Nanny-nanny boo-boo. MLS is also tapping into our adolescent memories. In fact, they’re banking on it in a series of new ads. The VW Road to MLS Cup commercials feature professional soccer players ( Ben Olsen, Sacha Kljestan and Chris Klein among them) in the backseat of a minivan. The driver is comedian Mo Collins, playing the “number one soccer mom” and treating the players like they are her eight-year-old kids. In one segment they drink a lot of juice boxes, and the comedy revolves around their need to pee-pee. Mom won’t let them. We hate to be a collective wet blanket—we did laugh when she said, “stick some ice on it”—but we’re not so sure infantilizing the players is the best way to dramatize the biggest game of the year and give soccer its proper respect in America. If you are going to do that, at least funny it up a little more. Besides, this year’s Cup final will star two phenomenal players who are far from their tween years: 33-year-old Red Bulls striker Juan Pablo Angel and 35-year-old Crew playmaker Guillermo Barros Schelotto. It might be worth playing up their veteran skills. The wily Schelotto has remarkable vision and always seems to make the perfect pass that opens up defenses, while Angel may be the best striker in the league. He hasn’t fired on all cylinders yet in the playoffs. If he does, he may bring the Red Bulls Cinderella story to a fairy tale end. Angel and Schelotto have faced each other in big games before. Playing for Argentine rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors, they met four times in the Superclasico (Schelotto’s Boca has the advantage with 2 wins and 2 draws). We imagine a commercial with these two as old men in a nursing home recalling their great matches, including this year’s MLS final. But the whole time they have to pee. It’ll be hilarious.


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