In praise of soccer in the age of You Tube

I grew up playing soccer. It was my fist organized sport. We played in the spring and fall where I grew up. This was in the 80s, and it was a fairly low-key league. We got a tee-shirt at the the beginning of the season for a uniform, and it seems like I was always on a purple team.

1994 rolled around, and I was an enthusiastic bench warmer on my high school team, and, of course, the U.S. was hosting its first World Cup. This was the first time most American youth soccer players of my generation got to see international soccer on TV. We watched all the games we could, right up through the Italy-Brazil final, which ended in a draw and went to the dreaded penalty kick shoot out. The game was decided when a lonely Roberto Baggio sent his shot sailing over the cross bar.

The following season, every shot we took that cleared the crossbar was “Baggioed,” a fact that seems particularly cruel since Baggio had an extraordinary career full of extraordinary shots that sailed where he meant them to. But sport is fickle, and it was particularly short-sighted in an era when highlights were not a YouTube search away.

I didn’t play organized soccer after 1994 (JV benchwarmers don’t make varsity), and though I’ve followed the game casually since then, it wasn’t until last year when I was working on Goal! for Millbrook that I spent a lot of time looking at (wait for it) goals on YouTube. How different things would have been for us young American soccer players if we’d had YouTube. The moves we’d have learned. The players we’d have emulated.

In the final yesterday, Andrés Iniesta scored only minutes before the end of extra time, breaking a nil-nil draw and saving us from the cruel spectacle of PKs and the possibility of another Roberto Baggio moment in the final.
It was not a tournament free of PK agony, though. Maybe the closest thing to Baggio for this tournament came in the quarterfinal round when a young Ghanian player, Asamoah Gyan, whose tournament had been stellar to that point (he sent the US home in the round of 16), hit the crossbar on a PK that would have put Africa’s last team into the semifinals.
Maybe any shot that rattles the crossbar this fall will be called a “Gyan” at pitches around the country, but at least Gyan can take some comfort that kids are only a YouTube search away from his finer moments. He should be particularly pleased with his top search result:

For the record, my favorite goal of the tournament was this strike from Dutchman Arjan Robben in the round of 16 against Slovakia. I watched it in my hotel room at ALA. How can you not love it when a striker beats the entire back line for the goal?