Brilliant soccer would be accepted by United States sports fans

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:54 p.m.

I admit that I am not a soccer fan, but when I got the opportunity to watch FC Barcelona play while studying in Europe I could not pass it up.

I wanted to know what Europeans love about soccer and maybe discover why Americans tend to dislike the sport. After watching what many consider the world's best club team, I have had to reevaluate my opinion on soccer.

I can see why it lags behind other American spectator sports; however, Barça's performance contained moments of brilliance that any sports fan could appreciate.

Going into their game on Nov. 3, Barcelona was leading the Spanish domestic league, and they were off to the best start in team history while their opponent, Celta de Vigo, plodded along in 14th place.

The match was played in front of 82, 900, but I was surprised at how docile such a large crowd was. Perhaps this was because Vigo was not a particularly hated or threatening opponent, or maybe soccer is not meant to be watched with the rabid intensity that American fans inject into football, basketball or hockey.

Barcelona's 3-1 win seemed so inevitable that the massive crowd was not perturbed when Celta de Vigo tied the game at one in the 25th minute. I discerned no angry, castigating remarks about the team's defense from the fans around me. Rather, the crowd refocused quickly on observing the beautiful display of soccer being presented to them.

Every possession, Barça tried to paint a masterpiece that would lead to a goal. They passed the ball methodically, with rhythm and precision. They tried to craft a situation where a daring and dramatic pass, slipped in the miniscule cracks of the Celta defense, could lead to a dangerous shot at the net.

While the players patiently probed for weaknesses, the crowd waited with baited breath and great anticipation. Particularly skillful passes, such as David Villa's back-heel pass to Andres Iniesta that led to the second Barcelona goal, garnered appreciative gasps from the crowd. Only goals, and Lionel Messi, drew full-throated roars from the crowd.

If Barça as a whole represented classical painters slowly crafting their masterwork, then Messi was Jackson Pollock, filling the canvas with bursts of creativity with each touch. The crowd gave an anticipatory roar each time Messi gained possession; his skill and flair was such that a chance seemed imminent every time the ball rested on his foot. If every player were like Messi, Americans would love soccer.

American sports fans do not like to hold their breath and wait. We like to scream all game long and make our presence felt; therefore, we would embrace soccer if every player were like Messi, but that is not the case. He is the best in the world, and few players bring a similar excitement to the game.

However, maybe Americans would better appreciate soccer's beauty if a team like Barcelona were stationed on our own soil. We desire to be the best. The NFL and NBA teams are undoubtedly the world's greatest, and if a brilliant soccer team were based in the US it may be accepted. But until that happens, football's visceral emotion will trump the gradual beauty of soccer every time.

S.R. Malone is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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