I’m probably late to this party, but World Cup soccer is a treat. The over commercialization of big-time American sports sent this former Mets season ticket holder into a major retreat from pro-sports. FIFA soccer at Yankee Stadium, on the other hand, is totally enjoyable.
We decided to attend last week’s Spain vs. Ireland soccer match last week at Yankee Stadium and it was a hoot.
Travelling to the match was shockingly easy and unusually pleasurable for New York rail travel. We took the metro-north train from Connecticut right to the brand new Yankee Stadium commuter shuttle station. It was clean, cheap and on time. Since we were going to watch the Spanish team play I was reminded of the time I attempted to take the train in Spain. Unable to understand the announcements I leaped onto the wrong train, leaving my partner Marian behind on the platform, gesticulating with her hands a signal I thought meant, “get off at the first station.” Wrong. I jumped off the train at the first station, ending up on a lonely dusty platform in a Spanish village I never heard of and unable to communicate with anyone. The trip to Yankee Stadium was much more simple.
The Spain team plays with raw agility and athleticism. It is hard to understand how they can pass the ball with that kind of surgical precision. They dominated playing time and it didn’t seem like Ireland had much of a chance, but the match was close until the last minutes. It kept my rapt attention the entire match, and it moves quickly.
FIFA soccer is literally the opposite of American pro-sports. The players, with only three exceptions, have to play the entire game. It’s not like the NBA with constant substitutions, or the NFL with complete offense/defense team changes and ever so “special” teams. There’s no ultra specialization like MLB baseball with a different pitcher for every imaginable match-up: like the left-handed pitcher who comes in the game in the 8th inning to throw only one batter. The FIFA players the coach puts in the game are the ones he runs with, with only three substitutions allowed per game.
Unlike American pro sports, there are no TV time outs every few minutes. The clock just runs. It took some getting used to not to have a bathroom break or just enough time to run over for a hot dog. With no time outs for food breaks to we hurriedly bought the food closest to our seats: chicken and pastrami Panini’s, the new yuppy classification for grilled meat and cheese sandwiches. I was hoping to make it a complete cultural event and enjoy Spanish tapas or an Irish stew. I would have compromised for a hot dog with mustard and kraut.
American pro sports are one-third-rock concert, one-third commercials/promotions and one-third sports game. There was no screaming scoreboard at Yankee Stadium FIFA, just the occasional polite PA announcement, and very timely instant replays on the big screen. We were spared the annoying foam finger souvenir hawkers and didn’t have to duck to avoid cheap tee shirts launched from surface-to-air missiles.
I had some trepidation about going to Yankee Stadium. The last time I was there was for the 2000 Subway World Series when angry Yankee fans leered “child abuse” taunts at me for raising a Met fan. So I expected the soccer fans to be rowdy. They weren’t at all. The Ireland fans took their defeat in good fun.
This soccer match was probably not typical since it was very early in the competition, and not in Europe. I bet this same match played in Brazil at the World Cup finals would not be as civilized. It helped that “last call” for beer was called at 9:30 pm, to the surprise of many fans. The heavy Irish accents and the Spanish spoken in the stands added to the entertainment.
I’m the first to rant when the stress of modern life overwhelms experiences. FIFA soccer at Yankee Stadium is the rare exception; an unspoiled, no frills athletic competition. I’m sold.