I wasn’t always a soccer fan. My earliest sports memories are all centered around football and baseball. I vividly remember watching the Dallas Cowboys find new and more painful ways to lose NFC Championship games when I was very young. Many a fall Saturday consisted of driving to and from College Station to watch my beloved Texas A&M Aggies play (and win every halftime). I spent many days and nights in the outfield bleachers at old Arlington Stadium mercilessly heckling the opposing team’s outfielders (though my best Texas Rangers memory came from the third base line. Section 120, Row 11, Seat 9. May 1, 1991). Growing up, I was completely unaware that professional soccer existed, or that competitions like the World Cup were so important to the rest of the world.
I gradually grew into soccer over time, starting with the World Cup that was played here in 1994. Today, I consider soccer to be my second favorite sport behind football, and one aspect of general sports fandom that perplexes is me is the sometimes vociferous dislike of soccer that many football fans express. I’m living proof that it’s possible to love both sports. My hope is that some of the Cowboys fans that read this who aren’t already soccer fans just might give FC Dallas a try.
Let’s look at a few aspects of soccer through the eyes of a football fan:
The most common complaint about soccer from fans who don’t follow the sport is that there isn’t enough scoring. There’s no getting around it, soccer is a low-scoring game compared to every other major sport. It is simply not easy to score goals. Those of us who love the sport view this as a positive rather than a negative because the tension in a match is always high.
One way to look at it is that every goal scored in soccer is the equivalent of a touchdown, two field goals and a missed field goal in football. This is because a soccer team will generally have multiple chances (think of these as red-zone opportunities) in an opponent’s end before the ball hits the back of the net. Each of these can be methodical, multi-pass efforts up the field, like a long drive in football, or one long strike that creates a sudden scoring opportunity. So a 2-1 soccer match can easily have the same excitement as a 26-13 football game, with the added bonus that the outcome is in doubt until the final whistle.
“The World Grass Diving Championships.” This is how many football fans derisively refer to the World Cup or soccer in general. I’m going to be bluntly honest: there is diving in soccer. Some players drop like a ton of bricks if an opposing player sneezes in their general direction when they are inside the penalty area. It’s easily my least favorite aspect of the game, but you know what? I also hate it when NFL receivers flip their wrist in the air asking for pass interference on every single pass play where they don’t catch the ball. Or quarterbacks who tap their helmet after a heavy pass rush looking for a roughing-the-passer penalty because someone grazed their helmet (I always hear the QB in my head saying, “B-b-b-but he was hitting me!”).
And if you say you’ve never seen a 6”-4’, 310lb nose tackle suddenly crumple to the turf like he’s been shot, then roll around in agonizing pain until the trainers come out and give him a little Gatorade and a pep talk that amazingly heals the player a few seconds later, all because the opposing team was running a no-huddle offense and the defense was getting tired, well, then I say you don’t watch much football. At least in soccer they have magic spray.
I’ve heard many football fans refer to soccer as a non-contact sport and derisively insinuate that people who play soccer aren’t tough. Clearly, the two sports are different and football has contact as a rule on every single play. There are also far bigger and more violent collisions in football than you ever get in a soccer match. But there is, without a doubt, highly physical contact in soccer. Defensive players fly in full-speed and studs-up at an offensive player’s legs to try and win the ball and the collisions can definitely have dire consequences for the person being tackled. Just ask FC Dallas’ David Ferreira, who missed almost all of last season with a severe ankle injury, or the Seattle Sounders’ Steve Zakuani, whose gruesomely broken leg on a vicious tackle was reminiscent of the night Lawrence Taylor broke Joe Theisman’s leg.
Almost every set piece or lofted cross in soccer results in players for both teams launching themselves skyward in an effort to get to the ball first. Since only the goalie, of course, can use his hands in soccer, every other player on the pitch is trying to make contact with the ball using the highest legal part of their body – their head. All too often, contact is made with another player’s head. There is a reason why helmets were introduced to football early last century: head-to-head collisions hurt and can severely injure one or both players involved. They don’t wear helmets in soccer, so instead of helmet to helmet collisions they have cranium-to-cranium ones. The resulting concussions impact soccer players as negatively as they do football players.
My intent here is definitely not to try say one sport is better than the other. It is simply to point out that there are some areas of commonality between football and soccer and to say that if you’ve never been out to FC Dallas Stadium, well, maybe you should give it a try. There are five major sports teams in Dallas, so FCD should at least be on your sports radar screen. The team is good and plays an entertaining, attacking style. I’m a casual hockey fan and I no longer follow baseball with the fervor that I used to (the reasons why are a column for another day), but I thoroughly enjoy attending Stars games at the American Airlines Center and Rangers games at The Ballpark. I proudly wear the gear of both teams because they represent our area and are a part of our community. And when it comes to bang for the sports entertainment dollar, you simply can’t beat the game day value being offered at FC Dallas Stadium.
Besides, what else are you going to do until the season opener against the Giants?