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Kovacevic: Love/hate soccer? Join the crowd

| Sunday, June 22, 2014, 11:08 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Mike McHale (center), 33, of Bloomfield, celebrates with other World Cup fans after Team USA scored a goal against Portugal as they watch the World Cup match at Birmingham Bridge Tavern in South Side on Sunday, June 22, 2014. The match ended in a 2-2 tie after Portugal evened up the score in the final seconds of the match.

I love soccer.

I hate that it's still such a polarizing subject in our nation — and our nation alone — that any such declaration can't simply be accepted. It's got to be defended.

I love what the Americans are doing in Brazil, beyond the opening victory over Ghana and the dynamite 2-2 draw Sunday night with Portugal. The results are one thing — and they were one booted ball away from already advancing — but the confidence, the clear sense that they belong on this stage ... that's no accident. That's a buildup, as they say in the game.

I hate that Cristiano Ronaldo's tying cross was so tantalizing that I can't even hate it.

I love that someone today will call soccer boring and be a fool for doing so.

I hate that most will nod at that someone, anyway.

I love Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie and all the great scorers on this stage. There's no way to equate that level of stepping up in any other setting in global sport.

I hate Fred. He's Brazil's diving, cheap-shotting embarrassment who's already helped them win one match by doing plenty of both.

I love that I can hate someone named Fred and not have to look up his last name. Saves memory space to hate others.

I really hate Pepe.

I love that Clint Dempsey is working toward becoming the first truly transcendent household name in U.S. soccer. That never was going to be Landon Donovan, with all due respect.

I hate that Dempsey still will have to play overseas to earn what he's worth.

I love that more casual fans are watching the World Cup. The ratings for ABC and ESPN are up 26 percent from the same point in the 2010 tournament. U.S.-Portugal was expected to be our most watched soccer match ever.

I hate that people profess their hatred for soccer without the slightest provocation. All it takes is the mere mention of the word, and flames rage from the nostrils. Seriously, why? Fear of the unknown? It's un-American? The Commies are coming to take us, so let's all dive under our desks? It's going to eat all our other sports? What's the threat?

I love that I'll never ask someone to like soccer. If they do, swell. If not, same.

I hate that some soccer snobs do see their fandom as some sort of crusade.

I love goals, and this World Cup has produced a stirring 0.8 increase in goals per game over 2010. Some have had the feel of a tennis match.

I hate offsides. Not the spirit of the rule. I understand why it's always been there. Rather, it's that the default mode is to raise the flag on every close call. It should be the opposite. Always reward ambition.

I love that the Steelers' David DeCastro, whose he-man credentials include being a completely carnivorous 6-foot-5, 316-pound guard, said this the other day when our conversation turned to that other football: “I enjoy watching, but man, what's with all the diving and rolling around?”

I hate that there's no good answer for the man. In the final 20 minutes of Nigeria's one-goal victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday, the Nigerians had no fewer than eight instances of players writhing, screaming and pounding the grass through alleged pain. It was as sorry a sight as you'll see in any sport. The ref actually wagged his finger at three of them.

I love ESPN's no-dumbing-down, multi-cultural approach to covering this World Cup, topped, as always, by the verbal paintings of Ian Darke.

I hate the fruit bowls.

I love the King's English of soccer commentary, notably plural verbs attached to plural entities. You know, as in, “Spain are a very bad side.” Or, “Fruit are good for you.”

I hate that the adjectives are so hyperbolic. Not every strike is “Brilliant!” Not every breakdown is “Catastrophe!” Not every save solves famine, pestilence and disease. And never, ever is any play “delicious.” ESPN's Efan Ekoku bellows that term repeatedly to describe crosses, and every time tastes like rotten fruit.

I love having soccer front and center against the Downtown skyline since the Riverhounds' arrival at Highmark Stadium last year. It's the most powerful statement possible for the sport's growth locally.

I hate to see the long faces I did Sunday at Highmark with the latest loss, a 3-1 slopfest against Richmond that dropped the Riverhounds to 1-8-5. Some good people made some bad missteps this past offseason.

I love that franchise owner Tuffy Shallenberger reiterated to me Sunday, “We will make it work here. You'll see. It's coming.”

I hate that soccer always seems to take one step forward, two steps back. Maybe this potentially special national team will change that. Or maybe it just needs more haters to keep the topic hot.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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