Sports

A beautiful game, live

I'm really trying to get excited about this column about professional soccer. I really am.

It's just not happening. And this is the problem with professional soccer. It may be indicative of soccer's problem as a whole. Or maybe it's just me.

See, I'm trying to convince everyone I meet who's tired of trying to root for a bedraggled, once-interesting-but-now-just-painful-to-watch major league baseball team who shall not be named, or yearning that the NBA would come back to our fair state, or hoping that the Seattle Storm and the WNBA become relevant, that Seattle has its own far superior alternative.

And if you have a modest amount of disposable income and the wherewithal to take a day off work, it's true. The Seattle Sounders have everything a sports fan could want: a great stadium (Quest Field), a raucous fan base (average home attendance of 36,000-plus, best in Major League Soccer by 16k!), snazzy uniforms (eye-catching lime green to go with classic Seattle blue) and plenty of talent.

Seriously.

It's just that - and this is where I have a problem with the sport as a whole - watching MLS games on television or talking about pro soccer or sifting through soccer stats is something akin to watching shows or talking about or collecting stats about food, when I'd rather just eat.

As a passing-interest kind of sport, soccer doesn't hold a light to other major sports. Baseball has a rich and enigmatic history, with endless numbers to pore over. Basketball has ridiculous personalities displaying the heights of athletic creativity. Football has all of the above, plus violence. Hockey and car racing, you might get a good fight or crash.

Soccer has some of the above, but none of it in excess. You can try to compare players by the numbers, as baseball aficionados of one generation do with fans of another, but it becomes more complicated as the world's top players don't play here. Unless you have ESPN-14, you're not catching the best soccer in the world.

Plus, besides goals and assists and shutouts, what's there to quantify? Red cards?

Soccer has some great personalities - I'm told. But besides David Beckham, a couple of Sounders players and a handful of players one may have heard about during the 2010 World Cup, I doubt most sports fans can name two team's worth of soccer pros.

Count me in that group.

What about the drive-by fan? You know, the one who watches NASCAR for the inevitable wreck or Tivos a hockey game for a fist fight? Soccer on TV offers very little. Sure, there's plenty of pushing and shoving, but mostly it's just rolling around pretending to be hurt.

Ah, but a game in person? There's where the beauty of soccer is revealed.



Get one's self to a game

I was not ever, nor am I now, a good soccer player. As a singularly thin child of 9, I was a passable midfielder.

By age 10, I was simply the kid no one would pass to. The one individual soccer award I received was in a summer camp when I got kicked in the stomach and didn't quit playing (sad but true story), earning the "Toughest Camper Award." Still have the trophy.

I write this not to seem self-deprecating and thereby creating some sort of aw-shucks kind of charm (unless it works - then disregard this sentence). I just know that, after playing seven seasons worth of the sport as a child and watching the best area players evolve, then watching my sister play at a high level of soccer in high school, then covering a good number of good high school and rec soccer here in Sequim, I know it isn't an easy sport in which to excel.

Like baseball, soccer on the surface seems like the kind of sport any Joe or Jane can play. Players don't wear thick, padded uniforms. They're not 19 feet tall like basketball players. They don't hit a puck 100 mph while skating backward on frozen water.

It seems doable, that is, until you see good soccer up close.

As a gift, my wife took me to a Seattle Sounders game as they took on the Colorado Avalanche in the summer of 2009. I was fearful of three things: one, that I'd be stuck in a raucous, violent section of inebriated futbol fans who'd scream the entire time, fling beer everywhere and basically make the game unwatchable; two, that I'd be bored to death by a scoreless, drama-less game, and; finally, I'd overpay for my food.

Only one of those things happened.

First, the Seattle Sounders Football Club has great fans. They yell at appropriate times, and only if you're in the lower bowl near the home goal are you likely never to be able to hear the person next to you.

Second, the game was high drama from the get-go. Seattle wound up scoring three goals, one from Fredy Montero and a pair from Nate Jaqua (who earned MLS's Goal of the Week and Player of the Week), winning 3-0. In between, the play was as good as I've ever seen, all the more impressive that it was before my eyes and not on some TV screen.

Third, predictably, the food was overpriced. Dinner-and-a-drink was ridiculous. It made the T-shirts seem reasonably priced.

This year, as is becoming the tradition, my wife got me tickets once again to see the Sounders beat the Avalanche 2-1 on July 25. That outcome didn't seem like a given, as the Seattle club came in with a 5-8-4 mark and just three wins in their previous 13 matches.

Sure, it helps that they won, but the experience as a whole was far better than any major league baseball game I'd been to in years.

The Sounders, by the way, are back in Seattle Sept. 4 to take on the New England Revolution.



A peninsula soccer renaissance?

No need to tell the local soccer faithful there are plenty of ways to enjoy the earth's most popular sport.

For the youths, there's Sequim Junior Soccer, boasting more than 600 players on fields each fall and hundreds more in the spring.

At Sequim High School, Dave Brasher and the Wolves' boys are perennial title-chasers and state qualifiers. After a few tough seasons, Sequim's girls have a new coach in Molly McAleer and newfound optimism.

At Peninsula College, Andrew Chapman has the Pirate men battling for their sixth-consecutive NWAACC playoff appearance, while Kanyon Anderson leads P.C.'s first-ever women's soccer squad into battle this fall. Before their seasons are half over, both teams hope to get some games in on a brand new turf field in Port Angeles.

Adults on the Olympic Peninsula have plenty of opportunity too, with coed indoor and outdoor recreation leagues.

Personally, I'm just happy to watch a game and write about it.

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.



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