Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Taking One for the Team: The Mike Freeman Experience

Apologies for the lack of a catchy intro but my lifeforce has been seriously depleted by dissecting this and I can hardly be bothered.

It's by a Mike Freeman. And he was a victim. A poor sad victim of pretty exciting, fairly competitive soccer match. When I regain my energy, I'm going to record a song about his plight and raise money for his benefit.

Additional apologies (and thanks) to Fire Joe Morgan. Rest in peace. I also apologize for switching voices. It's poor form on my part, I admit it.

Anyway, fun starts after the jump.

One of the last great soccer lies came in the form of David Beckham.

What's a soccer lie? I mean if Beckham was one of the last great ones, doesn't that imply there have been a number of them? And shouldn't someone know about the others? I consume a fair amount of soccer, I don't know one great soccer lie outside of "England will win the next World Cup."

More importantly, what the hell does David Beckham have to do with anything? I mean given the proximity in time of this piece to the final of the Confederations Cup (the day after), I'm guessing this is ultimately about the US Men's National Team. Beckham doesn't play for the USMNT. He can't, he's English. England didn't play in the Confederations Cup. In fact England didn't even qualify for the tournament that qualified a European team for the Confederations Cup.

But Beckham, the big lie. Sure.

He was supposed to make us blokes in the United States care about the sport.

According to whom? I realize I'm asking a lot of questions to start but these unsupported claims sort of need, well, support.

He was a global icon, we were told, the Tiger Woods of soccer, and he'd educate the American heathens about real football.

He still is a global icon. Beckham is massive. In Asia they build temples in his honor and they build him out of chocolate.

Anyway, I'm not sure there even is such a thing as a Tiger Woods of soccer. See Woods plays golf. It's (largely) an individual sport (things like the Ryder Cup are rare exceptions). Beckham plays soccer, it's a team sport with 10 other guys out there. I'm still not sure why I'm even talking about David Beckham but surely as a sportswriter you can appreciate the difference between individual and team sports and see how you fail at analogies.

In 2007, Beckham signed a mega-deal to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy and the media slobbering began in full force. I was one of the suckers who believed Beckham could potentially erode the snobbery people in this country exhibited toward soccer.

See that URL from the Web page your article was on? It starts with the letters See Bee Ess. As in Viacom. I got news for you Mr. Freeman. You're the fucking media. You. You're not some outside observer detached from it, you work for a massive entertainment and media conglomerate, the same one that put Becks on '60 Minutes', the same one that probably sent network and local affiliate reporters to cover his arrival. Shit, maybe a Viacom outlet greenlighted a Posh and Becks reality show. You, your brethren, and your employer did the slobbering and if you fell for anything it was the making of you and your peers. Quit fucking acting like you're above it or outside it.

Swing, miss. But my words were nothing compared to some of the garbage spewed in the orgasmic afterglow of the post-coital meeting of media and megastar that year.

Shit, maybe I should have saved my previous rant until after this sentence. I still can't fathom what Beckham has to do with any of this. And I prefer not to have any sexual imagery attached to it while we're at whatever it is we're at. I mean I think I know where you're going (I'm not a total dumbass) but to start it with Becks is like starting a recap of 'Crime and Punishment' by talking about Pavel Datsyuk. Not even. At least both he and Raskolnikov are Russian.

"What he gives MLS is an immediate GQ rating and free advertising for the league wherever he goes," wrote ESPN.com.

Quoting EPSN. That's Disney. Another massive media conglomerate like the one you work for.

"Between talk-show appearances, the celeb circuit and hanging with the Hollywood A-listers (it's been reported that Brad Pitt has requested soccer lessons from Beckham for his son), Beckham will give MLS a buzz and intro to mainstream pop culture it has never had before."

Pretty sure it did because, well, outlets like ESPN and CBS wrote about Beckham's arrival in America. That's where this shit came from. It's not like there is some grassroots media organizations that were lifting Beckham out of obscurity upon his arrival in the U.S.

"David Beckham is a global sports icon who will transcend the sport of soccer in America,” said Don Garber, commissioner of the MLS at the time.

Uh, he's still commissioner.

None of that happened. Not an ounce of it ever came true. The average attendance of an MLS game is 14,883 people with cities like Dallas and Kansas City averaging around 9,000. The Professional Bowlers Association draws more interest. There was no Beckham Effect.

Okay, let's unpack this. First, if this article has any value, it's in this section as I was pretty astounded to learn that the PBA does draw a higher number than MLS on the 4-letter. It's startling enough that it's shockingly bad form to not take the 90 seconds to Google and give numbers to support it. The PBA gets about a .8, while MLS games—not soccer broadly mind you, but MLS—averages around a .2 rating.

Now, to throw around MLS attendance numbers (for live games) then say that the PBA draws more interest is a disingenuous juxtaposition at best. What's the gate for PBA events? Really, can you even get 9000 (a shitty MLS number) into a bowling alley? Any time I've seen bowling on TV it looks like there are maybe a couple hundred people there; and when I Google "PBA attendance" the first three returns are for the Philippine Basketball Association, the Police Benevolent Association and the Philippine Basketball Association. So if the PBA is keeping attendance numbers, it's not making them easily accessible.

Second, to say "there was no Beckham Effect" is just plain wrong. His debut for the Galaxy in an exhibition drew a 1.0 rating (five times the average). It was also the highest-rated and most-viewed program of the night on ad-supported cable networks among men 18-49 and 25-54.

League-wide average attendance was up in 8.2% in 2007 (Beckham's first season) over 2006. And generally, individual away games where Beckham played spiked dramatically over the average for the home team. Example: when they Becks'ed-up Galaxy made their debut in New York against the Red Bulls, they drew a crowd of 66,237, a club record for an MLS game (i.e. not against an international club side). That's the most dramatic example, sure, but here it's a matter of degree not kind.

Finally, if you knew anything about the sport of soccer you knew Beckham was already a limited player when he arrived in the US. He can't run at people, he can't tackle, he's not good in the air. He still has a lethal right foot particularly when the ball isn't moving, and fortunately for him, a disproportionate number of goals are scored from set pieces. But midfielders in soccer rarely control and dominate games the way a Michael Jordan can in basketball or a Josh Beckett can in baseball. To think Becks was going to come in and light up the scoreboard and magically transform the game into something Americans had to watch was to be willfully ignorant of the game.

Still, couple his diminishing skills with the fact that his effort in MLS was sub-par (really once he put on a Milan jersey he looked like a player who actually gave a shit again) and you got in Beckham exactly what a knowledgeable fan of the game would have expected.

Back on point, to just throw out the number 14,883 and say "No Beckham effect" is shitty journalism. Yes, that's right I just called you a shitty journalist because for some reason only known to a Supremely Perfect Being I am talking about David Beckham and MLS attendance when dissecting a piece I'm 99% certain is going to be (eventually) talking about the Confederations Cup.

With time as an ally, it's easy to see that the Beckham signing was one of the great cons in recent American sports history. More people know who Hedu Turkoglu is than David Beckham.

I'm going to assume you mean Hedo Turkoglu (at least according to his wikipedia page). And I'm going to guess that in soccer-mad Turkey, Beckham is more famous than Hedo in Hedo's home town of Istanbul.

Has anyone ever made a chocolate Turkoglu?

In the end, the only things Beckham conquered in the America were Posh Spice and a few red carpets at Hollywood parties.

The America. Therefor. Such as.

And if you can't conquer your wife, then maybe you should enter the priesthood.

He was the 70 millionth person/moment/slash phenomenon that was supposed to transform America's attitude about soccer, going back to Pele and the New York Cosmos in the 1970s. Remember, Pele was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. In retrospect, if Pele couldn't make this country care, no one could.

Pele was probably a good pick for one of the most important people of the 20th century. He and Ali might be the two biggest sporting figures of the last century. Pele got people to watch soccer in the U.S. No doubt about it. Was it sustainable? No. But that's another discussion. But Pele made people care, even if just for a little while.

Still, Pele. Beckham. I count two. You're 69,999,998 short. That's not a trivial amount.

Fast forward to now, and here we go again.

Okay, by my word-counter we are 370 words into a 765-word bit—not too far from halfway—about the US loss in the Confederations Cup final and we are only now getting our first mention of the event itself.

When America beat Spain, the top-ranked country in the world, in the Confederations Cup last week, we were again lectured about watershed moments and forecasts of increasing U.S. interest. "This win is huge for American soccer," said U.S. player Clint Dempsey.

"This win is huge" is a lecture for you? Shit, how did you ever manage to make it through college where they had actual lectures that were longer than seven words (I'm assuming you went to college... which, I'm not sure is a particularly good assumption on my part)?

Knocking off the top ranked team in the world is pretty huge. It was also huge in that, just a few days previous, the US team had been lambasted (and rightfully so) for its uninspired and largely disappointing play. They rallied and beat two continental champions back-to-back by a combined scoreline of 5-0.

Then the U.S. lost 3-2 to Brazil on Sunday, after taking a 2-0 lead. Typical U.S. soccer.

From 1950 to 1990 this sport had no history in America. For all intents and purposes, as a competitive soccer nation we are 20 years old. That's not even fucking old enough to have an M.O. that would qualify as "Typical U.S. soccer."

However, that was the first time that the US had blown a 2-0 halftime lead in international competition (I think that was the stat from the broadcast). So if something is a unique event I'm not entirely sure how it can also be categorized as 'typical' to begin with.

The Spanish win was a set-up. Another tease, followed by another spate of predictions on the upcoming American soccer emergence, followed by another letdown. It's the old U.S. soccer mamba.

First, a mamba is a large, highly-poisonous snake. Dude if we were thought of as something that fucking lethal in soccer by the rest of the world, that would be awesome. I think you took 'mambo' and 'samba' and combined them into something that has nothing to do with either. Well done (just a tip, most personal computers come with a dictionary built into the OS).

Second, "Hey Jesus, yeah, raising Lazarus from the dead, that was pretty cool but I'm not really going to be care unless you raise like an entire village from the dead. Yeah. And not just a village, but a village of knuckle-walkers. I mean people who have been dead for a long ass time. Shit Lazarus was walking around last week. How can we be sure he wasn't sleeping and you just woke him up? I'm going to need something with a much higher degree of difficulty if you want me to be impressed."

There is zero shame in losing 3-2 to Brazil in the final of a FIFA competition. The way we lost might have been crushing to the soul, as for a half, we outplayed them, but Brazil is still just better. They have five World Cups, more than any other country on the planet. If you're somehow put off by the fact that the USMNT failed to do the improbable back-to-back that's really not their fault.

How many times have Americans heard the soccer-will-transform-us mantra before? The site Deadspin.com compiled an interesting list.

In the 1994 World Cup the U.S. beat Colombia 2-1. "This game is going to have a permanent effect" on soccer in America, said Alan Rothenberg, president of the United States Soccer Federation. "It's the biggest so far in history." The permanent effect wasn't so perfect.

What does permanent have to do with perfect other than maybe your desire to be alliterative? The 1950 1-0 win over England was probably bigger so the second part of that statement is suspect. But the 1994 win was the first victory for a US side in the World Cup in 44 years. We made it out of the group stage, and raised expectations such that our inability to get a single point 4 years later in France was considered an absolute failure. Still, we have made every World Cup since the one we hosted. What's more, we expect to qualify. It's a given. So, inasmuch as there have only been 16 years since that win, the effect is about as permanent as it can be.

The U.S. beat heavily favored Argentina in 1995 in the Copa America tournament. "I think this is the first step ... to become a major soccer power," said one of the U.S. players, Cobi Jones.

If by soccer power he meant minor world player, that was accurate.

Another good win. And another step. Steps are small. Still we've been a fixture in and around the Top 20 of the FIFA rankings for a while now. So we're probably better than 'minor.' The rankings are flawed and maybe Jones was over-exhuberant in the afterglow of the win, but relatively speaking we've made good progress since 1995. Moving into the upper echelons of the world soccer hierarchy is a long slow process. What Jones said wasn't wildly off base, that win was a step.

The U.S. team beat Brazil in the 1998 Gold Cup, and the U.S. coach, Steve Sampson, was in full peacock mode. "[The win] states we can play with anyone in the world, and on occasion, beat the best in the world,” he said then.

Not in the World Cup, we can't.

Yes we can. And have. Okay, we probably only have 2 signature World Cup wins since 1950, and only one of those was over a possible favorite to win the Cup. That was Portugal in 2002. And that was an absolute stunner. That year was supposed to be the coming of age of Portugal's 'Golden Generation': Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Jorge Costa, Nuno Gomes, Conceição, Abel Xavier. That team was loaded with world class talent.

But here's the thing about the World Cup: it's fucking hard to win.

England, the nation that invented this sport has won the thing only once (and even then it was when they had the home field advantage). France were the reigning champions in 2002 and they didn't even make it out of their group stage. Wins in the World Cup are hard to come by (especially when FIFA seemingly rigs the draw against you tournament after tournament).

In 2002 the U.S. beat Portugal in the World Cup 3-2. One MLS official at the time said it was the beginning of the emergence of that league.

Do you even read the shit you write? You say we can't beat teams in the World Cup then you list a World Cup victory over one of the tournament favorites. What the fuck is wrong with you?

What the U.S. does is get a handful of wins every decade or so -- or some faded star like Beckham uses our country -- and our wishful-thinking genetics kick in. I've been just as guilty of this as anyone.

Really, why even bother with a half-assed attempt to make all of that nonsense about Beckham seem somehow relevant. Club soccer and international soccer are two different things. Beckham has nothing to do with the USMNT. He plays for MLS. And part time at that. It's a second-or-third rate league. It is. No rational soccer fan in the US will argue otherwise.

Any hype surrounding his arrival has nothing to do with expectations the USMNT might have raised by beating Spain in the semi-final of the Confederations Cup, or the disappointment Americans might have felt when they lost the final to Brazil.

It's typical American arrogance, however, to think that we can compete in a sport that, in many parts of the world, kids start playing in the womb.

Don't all babies kick in the womb? Ha, take that! We're loaded with pre-natal kids playing footie just like Brazil and Italy. Woo hoo! USA! USA!

Arrogance is invading a sovereign nation that's never posed a threat to you simply because you feel like it. Wanting to win at the highest level in sports isn't arrogance. It's a laudable aspiration.

Look, we just reached the final of a FIFA tournament—granted it's not the biggest tournament but all the teams sent close to full-strength, first-choice sides, and our group was loaded—so I'd say we competed (except maybe for the first Brazil game when we got down early and showed little fight).

If German athletes started crowing about how that country could put together an NFL team and then take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, we'd laugh.

Yes, we would. It would be an absolute slaughter. In fact if I had to put it the football score into soccer terms I'd say the Steelers would win somewhere on the order of 10 or 12 to nil.

So yes, the analogy is totally accurate. We put together a soccer team and we go compete against the world's best and we lose 12-0.

Oh wait, we don't. In fact we beat Spain, led Italy for a half even though we were down a man (we ran out of gas then got throttled), and outplayed Brazil for a half before they just overran us. Again, where's the shame in any of this? In fact, American soccer fans are disappointed because it's no longer good enough for us to just compete. We want to win.

I think we've already established your ability to fail at analogies.

If the Germans decided they wanted to play our football, give them 20 years. If they really put an effort into it, they might become competitive. That seems to be about the timeline, 20 years. Think about it. It's been about 20 years since the Dream Team, and if you subscribe to the notion that they turned basketball into a game that the rest of the world wanted to play, then it's taken about 20 years for the rest of the world to catch up. Or look at US Soccer. We first returned to the World Cup after a 40 year absence in 1990. It's been about 20 years. And we might be on the precipice of another step forward.

I'm not suggesting we're going to be a legit threat to win the next World Cup. If this is something you believe based on one result against Spain, that is your fault. Period.

This is the world's game. And competition at that level is insane. We'd need a good draw and maybe a favorable match-up to even make it to the quarters but we're getting better and teams that don't take us seriously, they are going to get beat.

The Great Soccer Con fooled me once before. Feel free to be suckered again. I've learned my lesson.

I thought you said there were 70 million things that were supposed to have transformed soccer in this country. Fool you once, sure. But how slow are you if inductive reasoning doesn't kick in until the 70 millionth time ? Do you take bets that the sun won't rise tomorrow morning? I mean you probably haven't seen it happen 70 million times yet yourself, so maybe you aren't quite sure it's going to happen. How much money do you have?

Look, glad you've learned your lesson. Whatever it is. That we can't beat Brazil but once every 15 times still? Or that Beckham can't transform the century-old sporting culture of a nation in two-season's time?

Just promise to never write another word about a sport you know next to nothing about. Please. Please promise not to watch a single World Cup match no matter how well (or poorly) the USMNT does. Just don't. I"m sure there will be plenty of bowling on next summer to fill the sports-viewing calendar. It's more popular here anyway.


EbullientFatalist said...

I'd read this whole thing now, but I reckon a strong drink is required before beginning.

Nathaniel said...

Mike Freeman can suck a bag of dicks.

Ibracadabra said...

This is excellent and I think someone needs to actually send this in full to the writer, Mike Freeman.

This is his twitter http://twitter.com/mikewriter

I am looking for his e-mail now.



Anonymous said...

Wow. I think I need to go run around the block or something. That's just terrible. To his readership's credit, most of the comments are negative. But the spelling and grammar mistakes? Are there no editors at CBS?

Adam said...

"Has anyone ever made a chocolate Turkoglu?"

Who hasn't?

I just twittered @ mike with a link, hopefully he sees it. The great thing about these bad soccer articles that seem to pop up from time to time is that there are always plenty of people to jump on the writer and correct them.

Anonymous said...


you can send feedback here

Ibracadabra said...

this may (or may not) reach freeman -

genqandc@sportsline.com - it is the general CBS sportsline email box.

jape said...

Excellent. Eat A Dick Freeman. Is it any wonder I really do not want the game to become popular here? As long as I have a few outlets to watch my team(s) on Saturday, the rest of this country can go fuck themselves when it comes to this.

iskoppa said...

Don't know about a strong drink,I've gone through a whole six pack reading this post!!!!!!!!!

Love The Smell Of Burning Vuvuzela said...

From the standpoint of basic logic and lucid argument, there are numerous ways to demolish this column. A 9th grade debate-clubber could do it in a few minutes.

O, the false premises! That we were "told" Beckham would "educate the American heathens"! That Americans were "lectured" in the wake of the Spain match! That the media simply "slobbered" upon Beckham's arrival, and didn't instead write SIX MILLION COLUMNS EXACTLY LIKE THIS ONE talking about how Americans won't take to the sport.

This shit is getting beyond old, I swear to God.