Thanks to Dave for the introduction and to everyone at Co-Op for having me. I’m a regular reader, so I’m happy to be able to contribute a few thoughts.
I’ll start with something that has been a nice distraction from writing and conferences over the past month: Euro 2008, which is the world’s second most important soccer tournament (after the World Cup). It was a terrific tournament – the quality of play was outstanding and the matches were close and exciting. While Spain deservedly won yesterday’s final, the real story of the tournament was Turkey. Turkey is not a traditional soccer powerhouse, but in this tournament managed to pull off three amazing come-from-behind victories before eventually losing to Germany in a very close semifinal. I don’t know how many Americans watched the tournament, but on my way back from a conference, at least, I had to convince my fellow patrons at the O’Hare Chili’s that the last five minutes of Croatia-Turkey would make for better TV than some rerun on another channel. (I was vindicated when both teams scored – Turkey in the last seconds before winning on penalty kicks.)
An interest in soccer comes naturally for me given my family. My dad started the men’s soccer team at Clemson University in 1967 and had an amazing career before retiring in 1994. Needless to say there were some big expectations on me growing up. Turns out I was pretty terrible at soccer, but all was forgiven since I did well in school. My brother inherited the soccer genes and went on to play for Clemson after my dad retired.
Even though I couldn’t play, I did go to countless games and enjoy many conversations about the sport. The conventional wisdom is that Americans don’t like soccer because there’s not enough scoring, which makes it boring. I actually think the lack of scoring makes each goal that much more exciting, and that a bigger problem is the opaqueness of the teams’ strategies. In football you establish the run to open up the pass, in basketball you establish the inside game to open up the perimeter, but in soccer, it’s far from clear what the teams are doing. The announcers could help here, but it’s a fine line between initiating new viewers and not irritating seasoned viewers with five-minute discussions of the meaning of “offsides” (a problem with US soccer coverage in the past). Even with a better understanding of the game, I doubt soccer will ever become that popular as a spectator sport here (unless it’s watching your kids play), although more sports fans would surely have their interest piqued by tournaments as good as Euro 2008.