Thursday, June 24, 2010

Relentless Gaming

Wow…I don’t know how anyone can concentrate with the World Cup on. I thought I’d take the day off (from watching it), but as I type this Slovakia is up 1-0 over Italy and the reigning World Cup champs are in danger of going home early (which is fine by me, as those dive-taking cry-babies are my LEAST favorite team in the tournament). Mama Mia!

Yesterday, I did NOT take the day off, instead going into work late AFTER watching the U.S. game. If anyone’s wondering why I wasn’t blogging yesterday, I was following the Germany-Ghana match anxiously through my entire lunch break, and then spent the evening watching high-lights from the games I missed and re-watching the USA match with my wife and brother. Yes, it was that good. My wife cried at the end of the game…both times!

Funny thing is, most Americans probably missed out on what may have been the coolest international sports moment for the U.S. since the American hockey team’s upset of Russia in the Olympics. I know the sports radio station I listen to spent most of the day talking about baseball. Crazy.

Well, at least the rest of the world was watching.

One way in which I’m driving my wife crazy about the game is the way I keep accidentally referring the players as “characters.” I mean, sure, some of them are “characters” in the funny sense of the term, and a lot of these players have plenty of “depth of character.” But the engrossing thing about this tournament is that it IS like a drama…like a TV mini-series…and the events that are un-folding episodically, game-by-game, ARE telling a story.

Kind of like an RPG campaign.

I can’t equate every player with a particular gaming archetype (they’d mostly be “fighters” though there’s certainly a magician or two sprinkled throughout the sides), but in watching their faces and performances over several games, you start to develop an idea of their personality, their personal style…it’s like watching gamers develop PCs over a series of adventures, though of course the soccer players are REAL people who are only now being REVEALED in the media spotlight, rather than imagined figments being invented around the table.

Still (and again, similar to gaming), it’s hard not to fall in love with the “characters” on the team…especially as you get to know them through each agonizing 90 minute match.

Clint Dempsey is the fearless badass striker for the U.S. team…during the National Anthem, he was literally licking his chops, presumably in the anticipation of the game. By the end of the match he was battered and bloodied, but the steel was still in his eyes. Personally, I think he’s got the toughest sounding name I’ve ever heard.

Then there’s the down-right elfin-looking Landon Donovan, team hero. He has practically willed his team into the Round of 16 through sheer determination and magical goal-scoring. The guy is frigging Legolas, all right? I mean, the Peter Jackson version (though his hairline is a bit more like Elrond). Plus, he has another cool sounding name.

There’s our slightly hypochondriac goal Tim Howard, who has the “charming” quirk of letting the opposing teams score on us a couple times before he warms up. Ha! No, he’s not that bad (though we’ve had better keepers in past tournaments), and he’s been playing pretty good for a guy with BUSTED RIBS. And his distribution from goal is fantastic.

Then we’ve got the 22-year old sparkplug Bradley, our starting center midfielder. The kid doesn’t have an off-switch and hustles tirelessly. As well he should since he’s the coach’s son (you can tell, ‘cause they both shave their heads). Seriously I haven’t seen that kind of nepotism since I was a kid playing soccer…but the guy’s good, one of the best on the team, and scorer of the game-tying goal in the Slovenia match.

I could say something about most of the players on the team: the promising young striker, Altire, that uses his size and speed to good advantage but still makes some rookie mistakes…the aging speedster DeMarcus Beasley, who I was afraid had been cut from the national squad (he figured prominently in past World Cup games), until he got into the game as a substitute…the tough-as-nails defender DeMerit who is the heart of the U.S. defense, like a brick-shithouse on an intercept course with opposing strikers…defender Bocanegra, our team captain whose amazing footwork and poise has also been a fixture of past World Cups…Buddle, the L.A. Galaxy’s top goal scorer but a rank novice in international play, etc., etc.

Now dear readers, you may say, “JB you are just an obsessive-compulsive Scorpio. We already know you are totally into your B/X D&D and your NFL football and your astrology…the fact that you know a bunch of soccer players, too, isn’t all that surprising…it’s just another personal obsession of yours that you are only now revealing.”

Wrong-O, pal. I watched the last World Cup in 2006 and 2002 and that’s why I remember Donovan (who could forget that hairline?) and Beasley and Bocanegra (another cool name). All these other names and faces? That’s not the Wikipedia…that’s just watching the games. The Americans ARE colorful personalities, full of fire and spirit. Maybe that’s just the coverage/editing of ESPN, but I’ve never been as sucked into the national team as I am this year. Hell, I don’t watch international soccer the rest of the years between World Cups (heck, I only made it to a couple-three Sounders games last year, and I haven’t PLAYED soccer in more than 20 years).

And Slovakia has just taken a 2-0 lead. Oh My God…I never thought they could actually do it, but they’re on the brink of sending the Italians home. Did I mention I can’t stand the Italians? Of course, Czechoslovakia had a history of being pretty good back in the days before it was broken up into separate countries…

[that last bit IS from the Wikipedia by the way]

The World Cup is the biggest “game” on the planet, folks, and the excitement surrounding it is contagious, the drama utterly addicting (I could write several blog posts on the French team alone…let alone Mexico, Argentina, Germany, South Africa...all of whom have great stories). I AM still working, but it’s tough to juggle writing, blogging, job-work, family, AND relentless television watching.

However, in honor of Donovan’s last game-winning goal, I am setting a “righteous goal” of my own…to put out some fun RPG-related stuff for the blog this weekend. Stay tuned…and go USA!


  1. We were watching the game at work yesterday... which mean that nothing got done for most of the game and a little while after. I never watched much soccer before but I'm hooked on this tournement.

  2. Italy gone. Good. I have nothing against Italians, but their football team has always been... well, "dive-taking cry-babies" is a good term.

    I'm not sure how Germany/England will go. We're traditionally weak against the Germans, as there's a psychological thing going on there which the English players can never quite shake, but it's not a strong German side, so it's possible even a team as lacklustre as England could beat them.

    Ghana will be a tough one for the US, but they've got fire in their bellies now, so I could see them nipping it and going through, but it will be a tight game.

  3. @ Monkey: I've been hooked on the World Cup tourneys since 2002 (Korea). Every four years it's like a month-long holiday...but this is definitely the most attention I've paid to the sport in my entire life.

    @ Kelvin: Good luck with Germany...I think that with Miroslav Kloser back in the line-up (another of my favorite "characters"), England's going to have a damnable hard time.

    RE Ghana: I didn't realize this until today, but Ghana was the team that knocked the U.S. out of the 2006 Cup. Pay back's a bitch, baby!
    ; )

  4. Merging RPG and soccer... It's a fine mix, and since I'm Brazilian, I could say I really like your post.
    This World Cup is rather singular. Many 'top' teams falling to mighty underdogs, and this is a sign the game is always evolving. Many 'top' teams are bound to their tradition, thinking the opponents will 'fear' the shirt they wear... and then they are defeated by the new kids, the ones who want to play real soccer, scoring marvelous goals and making awesome stops.
    Yet I do miss some more goals, as this World Cup is lacking great scores--but it's not lacking great matches! The last two USA matches were fantastic, and while the referee was not a good one on the penultimate one, at least he didn't complicated even more the game (as the referee who allowed a carnificine on the Brazil x Ivory Coast match).
    Anyway, I'd like to see USA and England advance. Both are great teams, and both played well. Yet England will face Germany, and there are odd the match will end on a penalty shootout--and every Englishmen knows what that means. ;-)
    Now, let's see if Portugal will defeat Brazil or not. I don't think they will, but I'm sure it'll be a wonderful match to watch...
    ...specially when you have the whole day off to do so. ;-)

  5. And what a performance from Japan! Well done to them!

  6. And now that the US is out of the cup, my world is a bit darker. I'll be pulling for Germany now, I guess. ;> *sob*