Did you catch soccer fever during the World Cup? I know it’s hard for many Americans to embrace the world’s most popular sport. Frankly, when I watched the games, I saw low-scoring, defense-dominated turnover-fests. However, according to a visiting Frenchman I lunched with, I didn’t appreciate soccer because I wasn’t seeing the games in person.
Let me translate what he said: “At zee football match, everyone watches zee game. At zee baseball match, no one watches.” Well, I couldn’t argue that ” the Wrigley faithful find it difficult to watch the Cubs. I got a chance to test the other part of his theory when I was invited to a Chicago Fire game.
The president of the Forest Park Youth Soccer Association organized an outing for coaches, players and board members to the Fire’s match against Dallas. The teams would be contesting for the aptly named Brimstone Cup, as the game-time temperatures were positively hellacious.
My midfielder and I had never seen professional soccer live and looked forward to visiting the spanking new Toyota Park. Fans were tailgating in the parking lot, using their energy-efficient “Direct Sunlight” grills. The Forest Park contingent scored tickets on the sunny side of the vehicle. We were such hardened fans; we didn’t slink over to the shady side, like the other 13,000 in attendance.
When the Fire players were introduced, it reminded me of something I’d seen on soccer telecasts. Fans like to teepee the field during games and the soccer players play on paper-covered surfaces. The Fire took care of this right at the start: shooting colorful confetti all over the field. The players didn’t mind: the confetti insulated their spikes from the 120-degree turf.
I was immediately thirsty but aware of medical advice against consuming alcohol during a heat wave. At the Fire game I found out why beer was bad. Sticker shock from the price could give you a coronary and you had to drink it fast to keep from burning your lips.
One beer was enough and we used the cup to pour water on each other. This kept us from bursting into flames but it wasn’t enough. We used every desert survival trick we knew, including soaking our shirts in cold water and putting ice inside our baseball caps; brain freeze being better than heat stroke.
Meanwhile, the players displayed amazing energy on the field. A player from Costa Rica later claimed it was the hottest weather he had ever played in. The action bogged down a bit, when the players tried to keep the ball in the narrow strip of shade on the far sideline but it was exciting when the Fire took a 2-1 lead. Dallas roared back with two goals in the final minutes to take the cup.
Watching soccer in person is way more exciting than a telecast. Next year, I hope the soccer league can expose more players and parents to this world class sport. Does the Fire play in December?