Luck, Skill and the Red, White and Blues

This weekend my daughter had a right to be a bit baffled. You see, we are a household of red, white and blue soccer fans.   By this I mean we are supporters of the US Men’s National Team and the New England Revolution.

The poor thing often says “Look Dad, a Revolution flag!” Of course, those flags are typically that of the United States of America. Hey, she’s small, we’ll work on that…

But, add in a weekend like this, with the Revolution’s home opener against D.C. United closely followed but the USA’s match against Argentina, and the poor girl was rightly confused.

For the slightly more attentive fan (or critic, depending on the moment) the games had plenty to offer.

First up, the Revolution. After watching the season opener on a bad web-stream feed in a hotel room across the country, I was ready to pay a bit more attention this time.

Some early goals highlighted a solid, if unspectacular, effort – at least for those hoping for skillful, creative, possession-oriented soccer.

But along with many positives and negatives, a bigger, invisible force seems to be at play here for the Revolution. (On field) luck.

Revolution luck could be questioned when looking at the continual injury bug that visits their locker-room. But on the field? Lady Luck seems to be be a Revolution fan.

In L.A. the Galaxy had a goal called back without there being any obvious foul in the box.  The Revolution tied the Galaxy, each with a single goal.

Against D.C. United, the luck kept coming. Zack Schilawski’s goal? Hand ball?  What hand ball? Pat Phelan getting fouled in the box though a goal scoring opportunity wasn’t obvious? Sure, why not. A phantom red-card to a D.C. United player just as the Revolution were trying to milk the clock. The icing on this luck cake.

It’s too early to be sure if the Revolution are going to be good enough to push for a title this year. But as it is so often said, it’s better to be lucky than good. If New England fans get their wish, this year’s Revolution will be both.

I’ll write more about the Men’s National team after their second game this week, but I was reminded of a few “off the ball” ideas as I watched.

While I may have an irrational interest and love for Major League Soccer, there is still a certain un-replaceable energy reserved for a USA game. No matter how big and successful MLS becomes, I don’t think that will ever change.

The other big reminder I had watching USA v Argentina has been said in many ways by many people – at least in part.  It is the idea that there are no longer easy games in international soccer. As an example, the United States can beat any team it plays, on any given night.  This certainly adds to the excitement.

This, however, is not the same as saying team quality has equalized over the years. The USA Men’s National team is a good team. The Argentine National Team is a great team. Watching the fluidity of the Argentines can and should make a real soccer fan swoon, even if they lacked the killer instinct needed to finish off the USA.

The fact that tactics, fitness and athleticism means good teams can beat great teams adds excitement to International soccer.    It also adds to the lore that soccer is a “cruel” game.

And while I will unabashedly pull for the United States no matter who they play, and this trend might be good for the team I love, I’m not sure that it’s good for the game I love.

Spain’s World Cup victory gives me hope that skill and creativity can make a comeback.  But we need teams like Spain to become the rule, not the exception.

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