I'm starting to come around on soccer.
Yes, I woke up in time for the second half of USA-Algeria in the World Cup. It's tough to admit, but that was some of the best, most intense athletic competition I have seen in a while. Certainly the best soccer game I've had the pleasure of watching.
Team USA had chance after chance after chance to score. My pulse quickened with each missed opportunity as the clock ticked toward 90ish and the end of America's World Cup run.
A 0-0 tie and the United States goes home and soccer is set back another five years after a second disappointing World Cup in a row.
It certainly did not seem to be in the stars for the red, white and blue. One disallowed goal robbed them of a win over Slovenia. Another goal wiped away against Algeria. Tons of missed chances. In my groggy state, I held little hope.
Then Landon Donovan streaked down a huge area of open field, passed it to the middle and found the back of the net off a save and I jumped out of bed yelling. The person upstairs did so as well. I heard the yelling and the felt the ceiling shake a tad.
So ... I am starting to come around on the beautiful game. I still wouldn't watch MLS regular season games or some random European game, but high-stakes, elite soccer is something I can get behind. Does this make me a bandwagon jumper?
Quite simply, yes. But I have no problem confessing this.
Here are the good things about soccer.
1. No commercials: Watching an NFL or NBA game, you're bound to see more erection pill ads than the actual game. Soccer games fly by. You can get five minutes with a commercial break. Biggest factor in its favor.
2. High stakes: I can watch almost any sport if the stakes are high enough. I'll watch the Masters, Wimbledon, Stanley Cup playoff games, etc. You can't find higher stakes than the World Cup.
3. New Zealand tying Italy: Thanks to some obnoxious Facebook people who root for Italy over America even though they were born and lived here their whole lives, I root against the Azzurri. That tie gave me great satisfaction.
It's not all good. The flopping is ridiculous and embarrassing. It's above shameful. And don't even compare it to flopping in basketball. Pau Gasol flops all over the place, but at least he doesn't pretend he got shot in the knee and start writhing on the ground in absolute agony.
The stoppage time doesn't make much sense either. Soccer games just end at a secret time and you're left to guess. Why not just stop the clock during the game, for an "injury" or a goal, instead of adding extra time at the end?
And I still don't get this offsides thing.
Nonetheless, I'm starting to like it as a niche sport. It won't supplant baseball, football and basketball in my mind, but it can carve a nice spot right below them with the occasional golf tournament or big boxing/UFC match. It's just hard not to like the World Cup.
Give me a pink Bayern Munchen hat and a knock-off Messi jersey and I'll be ready to join the hooligans.
But I still refuse to call it football.