October 2, 2008

Open letter to future foreign MLS players

Dear Foreign Soccer Player,

Did you catch the Barcelona-Shakhtar Donetsk game yesterday? Barcelona won 2-1. Leo Messi scored the game-winner after a throw-in that Shakhtar believed should have gone to them: Shakhtar kicked the ball out of play because they had a man down, but the player was not truly injured and one could argue that Shakhtar were trying to run out the clock.

The circumstances around Shakhtar Donetsk's anger at Barcelona perfectly encapsulate the largest problem soccer will have gaining a foothold in American sports culture. Gamesmanship is nothing new to the U.S. but faking an injuy is anathema to the rugged ideal we place on our athletes. When talking to my friends who aren't soccer fans, diving invariably comes up as a major reason they can't watch the game. I understand that soccer's continuous gameplay and clock give more incentive for this kind of behavior, but such an excuse will not work here.

But don't think we're all Puritanical and want our athletes to act like robots (unless you're talking to a 80 year-old baseball fan). We love when players say outlandish things to rile up the other team or make up crazy celebrations when they score. Faking an injury and then bouncing up after the magic spray treatment? Not cool. We'll think you're a giant prima donna b*tch.

So, to recap: Trash talk all you want. When you score, come up with the most creative celebration possible, even if some find it offensive. Just stay off your back unless you're actually hurt and the fans will love you.

American Villan

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