References

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"Ok I was gone for a minute but I'm back now." US Men's National Team and entire program has me hyped again to talk about SOCCER! The inspiration of the Kick from the Spot came over three years ago. Steady progress has been replaced by fits and starts. Recently I found a willing partner on the pitch, and the combination should be positive.

Today the USMNT successfully earned a point in Mexico City in World Cup Qualifying. This result loosened the non qualification noose that the Klinsmann regime craned the club into. With the emergence of Christian Pulisic as a legitimate American star, the USMNT has gain a potency and charisma lacking in recent years. The point in Mexico City returns the USMNT back to the paved road of World Cup Qualification.

The U20 US team put forth a strong effort in the recent U20 World Cup. The team made it as far as any US U20 squad in World Cup competition. All of these results and promise tastes a bit like penny leaves on the back of the U23 club failed Olympic Qualification. United States soccer still has a long way to go to completing on the world stage.

Part of the momentum forward is the fan base. The growth of soccer in US households is positive, but not quite on the front foot. The old guard soccer community subconsciously fights off new growth among fans. The inevitability of soccer becoming a top sport in American culture has the old guard coveting their community based private love. The language of soccer is difficult to learn without help from people with experience in the sport. The Kick from the Spot podcast and blog look forward to helping new soccer community members learn and grow with the sport.

Soccer is the Beautiful Game
Soccer is American

Stay tuned,

Jay Fratt

Monday, February 15, 2016

What Is A CONCACAF?

For those who are new fans to the sport of soccer, you may find it slightly confusing to keep up with all the national leagues, associations and matches. At Kick from the Spot we are here for you.  In the United States CONCACAF is an important acronym to know and understand.  Here are the basics you should know about CONCACAF.

What CONCACAF Stands For?


CONCACAF is the abbreviation for “The Confederation of North, Central America And Caribbean Association Football.” The association consists of North American members, Central American members, Caribbean members as well as the independent nations of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. It was created in 1961 and merged the NAFC and CCCF. Today it is considered the third most successful confederation of FIFA.

FIFA is the “Federation Internationale de Football Association”. FIFA is responsible for organizing, promoting and regulating soccer's major tournaments. There are six confederations that create FIFA, one of which is CONCACAF.  The most notable tournament arranged by FIFA is the World Cup.

What Does CONCACAF Do?


The main responsibility of CONCACAF is to organize teams and clubs who will compete in the World Cup qualifying tournaments. CONCACAF is composed of a number of independent territories and each of these territories will have their own leagues or associations.  Each country will have its own football league system.  The systems are designed so that the top placing leagues will compete for the club championships. The club champions then move on to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League. The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League will then qualify for a spot to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup.  CONCACAF also acts as the organizing body under FIFA that is responsible for amatuer and international clubs within the CONCACAF boundaries.  CONCACAF provides a vehicle for qualification and entry to the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics.

 The distinction between professional club teams and international teams can complicate the general understanding of organized soccer.  CONCACAF and the other confederations under FIFA organize both domestic professional soccer and international soccer within their boundaries.

The CONCACAF Champions League:


The CONCACAF Champions League is a tournament for domestic professional soccer clubs.  The football tournament takes place for August – October and from March -May. Tournaments played during August to October consist of the first stage of the tournament. Twenty four teams start in the tournament and are divided into eight groups of three teams. Nine teams are from the North American Zone. The North American Zone or NAFU consists of the territories of Canada, Mexico and The United States. Twelve teams are from the Central American Zone, or UNCAF. The remaining three teams come from the Caribbean Zone or CFU.

Each team in the group is played twice by the other teams in the group. The eight winners, one from each group, advance to the knockout tournaments. These quarterfinal, semifinal and finals round are held from March to May.

 The Bottom Line:


 CONCACAF is one of six associations within FIFA in charge of professional and international soccer within it boundaries.  The United States is in the CONCACAF association.  CONCACAF organizes tournaments for its members to qualify to larger tournaments within FIFA like the World Cup (national teams) and the Club World Cup (domestic professional teams).

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Soccer is American: Breaking Barriers

In the past few years I have found a new love in my life.  This love is powerful and consuming as it has determined my weekly schedule and wiped out life-long sporting relationships.  I have fallen in love with soccer.  As a boy and young adult I consistently took a passing interest in soccer.  I appreciated the game and the skill of the players.  This interest was less than acquaintanceship, more like a friendly face that looks familiar with no concrete reason or attachment.  I wonder why it took me so long to embrace the sport.   Now that I have broken through the invisible barrier that kept me from soccer for all those years, let's take a closer look at why there is resistance to soccer in America and the natural obstacles that stand in its way.

Americans have a tendency to dismiss sports that are foreign.  We are proud of our national sports.  Too often we come up with excuses that diminish foreign sports instead of pronouncing the real reason for the disinterest.  When a sport is celebrated in foreign cultures we feel the need to tear it down so we don't feel left out.  All of my life I have heard derogatory statements and jokes about soccer.  Sports radio hosts question the manhood of soccer players and even soccer fans.  The haters push soccer to the margins so we don't have to acknowledge or accept it, and they can stay safe in nostalgia.  Whether this is a symptom of mass media and pop culture or a xenophobic trait that comes from a collective group, it's ok.  This exposition is not an attack, and it won't become psychological self help advice.  Let's take an honest look at the sport of soccer in America from a practical fan's perspective.

Something new is difficult to embrace.  Take a look at your life.  The world is spinning, time is turning, and there is nothing you can do to slow down the inevitable end.  It is natural to reject something that is foreign to protect your precious time.  So many Americans just don't have time for soccer.  Our culture has developed a mechanism to help us avoid embracing a new sport.  The diss and diminish.  Soccer is boring!  There is no scoring in soccer!  Soccer is not physical.  Soccer is filled with faining and faking wimps.  Before we address these criticisms, let's take a look at some of the legitimate reasons why soccer is resisted in America.

Soccer is confusing.  When you pass by the window of a department store they have a display that is pleasing to the eye and easy to understand.  If the display is done right it draws you in and speaks an intended message.  When you take a glimpse at soccer as a passing interest it is like being hit with electronic dance music while watching the endless crowd in Times Square.  There is simply too much information to process as a passing interest.  The beauty of soccer is masked by the complexity of its organization.  From UEFA Champions league to the African Cup of Nations to MLS Soccer to CONCACAF Gold Cup to Copa America to the EPL, acronyms are thrown at you like a foreign alphabet.  It's no wonder soccer is dismissed so quickly by so many Americans.  The organization itself is so hard to understand.  The simplicity of the game itself is overshadowed by the organizational mess that is a culmination of its immense global popularity.

The MLS is not world class football.  There is a phrase that is used in soccer to describe the pinnacle of talent in the sport, "world class."  The American soccer league, Major League Soccer, is not at a world class level.  The easiest way for an American to see soccer on the television or in person is to view an MLS game.  A fan of Major League Baseball would never send someone to a double A league game as a representation of their favorite sport.  The MLS may be a professional league, but the level of play has yet to reach world class levels.

A.M. is not primetime.  The best professional representation of soccer is on very early in the morning in America.  The very best soccer in the world (Champion's League) is on TV smack dab in the middle of the work day during the week.  World class soccer is tough to watch during most American's weekly schedule.  England, Spain, and Germany are 8 & 9 hours ahead of the west coast of America.  Further exacerbating the problem, soccer is played primarily during the winter months so the games are played during the day at local time versus our American way of producing content for evening viewing.  That's right, the best soccer in the world might be played at 4am on the west coast of America.

We don't have enough time!  Possibly the largest reason for resistance to soccer in America is a lack of time.  Whether we realize it or not, the greatest country on the planet is a large machine that grinds us all into its economic and social apparatus.  Each person struggles to create space in their life just to simply enjoy their time. Seeking passion and creativity has become a scheduling conundrum in American culture.  Our society has grown so quickly through innovation and advancement in communications that our time is fought for fiercely by our own home grown creations.  From music concerts to fantasy sports, there is an endless list of entertainment possibilities to spend our precious time.  It is easy to dismiss soccer as a foreign concept because of how many options and impulses that each American is bombarded with 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  Soccer may be the king of the globe, but it is like a start-up sport in America desperately trying to gain traction in a sand dune of eyeballs and possibilities.

Those four attributes represent the main reasons and obstacles why soccer has struggled to take off and thrive in America historically.  However, pop culture and established media types would have you believe the main reason is the game itself.  Misinformation and ignorant rants replace analytics and logic when it comes to hating on soccer in the mass market.  Here are the main examples distributed throughout the years.

Soccer is boring.  This attack embodies the logic of someone who has not given soccer a chance, and yet it implies the perpetrator is giving an educated analysis.  Soccer can be boring, absolutely.  There are matches that never find a flow or impetus, but isn't that true of every sport?  Have you ever watched an NBA game early in the season, or any NBA game in the 2nd quarter for that matter?  Even the all mighty football has stinkers that fall flat with intensity (I'm looking at you Thursday night NFL).  Soccer is like any other sport:  The match-ups, the timing of the season, and injuries matter to the outcome and visceral experience.  However, soccer has an advantage that is lost in the ignorant "soccer is boring" analysis.  Soccer has no time outs or breaks beyond half time!  When the game starts, the action is on with no breaks.  More importantly, televised soccer has no commercials!  How much do you value your time?  How long is an NFL game from start to finish?  How long is the last 5 minutes of a NBA game?  I know when I decide to watch a soccer match that I am into it for 105 minutes (90 plus halftime and extra time).  This format allows the game to flow, and the it has the opportunity for spontaneous action at any moment.  I cannot watch an NFL game anymore without recording it on the DVR, and a remote control in my hand to fast forward.  The stops in the action and the commercial breaks are too much.  I value my time too much.  Soccer has an advantage in its format.  It is more fan friendly.  Because of the global nature and popularity of soccer, there are so many more opportunities for great match-ups internationally and professionally.  Barcelona vs Real Madrid, Argentina vs Brazil, Arsenal vs Chelsea, United States vs Mexico, Manchester United vs Manchester City.  There are so many more leagues and organizations to peak your interest and draw you in.  For example, my son is Basque.  There is a great team in La Liga (Spanish Soccer League) named Athletico Bilboa, a team focused on recruiting and fielding mostly Basque players?  So I'm not here to tell you that soccer is not more exciting than any other sport, but it does have a better format and broader canvas than any other sport.  Don't let flippant hate keep you from looking closer.  The hater might say it's not the format, it's the game itself that is boring.  Every minute of every soccer game is a free flow of spontaneous action that can inspire excitement at any moment.  Excitement is the edge of spontaneous and unpredictable outcomes between athletic combatants.  The game of soccer is the definition of excitement.  The "boring" critique is lazy and flies in the face of reality.

Top athletes don't play soccer.  This is very true, but only in America.  The best athletes accross the globe play soccer.  As soccer becomes more popular in America, the top athletes will follow.  Black athletes don't play soccer like they didn't play golf or tennis.  Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters will guarantee larger participation from the black community in the future for their respective sports.  Every year, more parents are protecting their children by putting a soccer ball at their feet instead of a helmet on their head.  It is only a matter of time before more of the top athletes in America grow up playing soccer.

The game is corrupt.  Soccer detractors point to the political scandals of FIFA as an excuse to dismiss the sport.  The top level of the global organizing body is corrupt with bribery and embezzlement.  Top officials use their positions as a perpetual money grab.  Corruption within the organization has allowed rumors of match fixing and referee intimidation to prosper as rule enforcement has lost its bite.  These are true problems with the global game of soccer.  However, when you try to organize a game across every continent and incorporate every language & people, corruption is a natural bi-product.  There is no one government that can regulate a global game.  I'm not conceding this argument; I'm simply being honest about a real problem.  However, every major American sport has a problem with corruption.  Baseball has steroids.  League officials looked the other way while athletes juiced up for the sake of invigorating the sport.  For some reason Americans don't want their baseball players to take performance enhancing drugs, but we look the other way when grid-iron gladiators play with the pigskin.  Football has CTE.  Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is an enormous scandal that stretches over decades.  The corrupt back story on the NFL's attempts to keep CTE out of major newspapers is now coming to light.  Basketball has gambling referees and frozen envelopes.  NBA referees control and effect professional basketball games to the point that you wonder if the pay-offs are larger than the pay checks.  Corruption is a modern problem with all sports leagues.  Soccer is not immune, but it shouldn't be punished unnecessarily in America where we have so many skeletons in our sport's locker.

Soccer players are faining wimps.  Once again, this critique comes from a 10 second video clip, and not from in-depth analysis.  Soccer is actually a very physical sport.  The players have weapons bolted to their feet, and are capable of using them in flying challenges for the ball.  Soccer is played in the air far more than a novice may think.  Heads clash when the ball is up for grabs in the air during a 50-50 challenge.  The ball winner is usually the player capable of meeting the ball with their head at the highest point.  These mid air challenges create collisions and crashes that any sporting fan should respect.  Recently a player came off the field during play to get staples punctured into his head to close an open head wound.  He jogged back into the field of play once the staples were applied right there on the sideline.  The "faining wimp" argument comes from the physical nature of the game and how hard it is to referee.  In the past players have been rewarded with fouls for taking a dive.  FIFA has addressed this issue, and has created a counter to faking fouls.  It's called simulation, and a referee can award a yellow card if they think a player is diving on purpose.  The English Premiere League has taken the lead among professional leagues by actively enforcing this new tool for referees.  Whenever you have an officiated game, you will have players that try to manipulate the enforcement of the rules.  The best basketball player in the world is a notorious flopper.  This is a sporting problem, not a soccer problem; yet soccer is being proactive in addressing the issue.

The popularity of soccer in  America is like a pyramid.  Experienced fans of soccer are at the top of the pyramid.  Each person they teach the subtleties and language of the game is a new layer in the pyramid.  It's a grass roots movement that now has communication tools that will accelerate the building of the base.  Friends have taught me the game I only played as a child.  The soccer community is a somewhat closed small group, dare I say snobby.  The more new blood in the American soccer tent will break through the closed ranks and share soccer with an even broader community.  This break through is occuring right now, but the pyramid of popularity has only begun to be built.  One expert believes there will be more viewers of English Premiere League soccer in America than in England within 5 years.  The English Premiere League viewership on NBC networks has increased by 150% this year.  La Liga and the top German Professional League are now televised by American cable channels also.  Soccer is being promoted in America by a grass roots movement of fans that are helping victims of the old stereotypes and mass media misinformation understand the game better.  If you cut through the clutter, noise, and confusion, you will find one of the best sports on the planet.




Sunday, August 23, 2015

Glossary:

As with any sport, there are many specific terms and phrases unique to soccer.  This glossary of specific terms and phrases will help you save face in the pub, and avoid the eye rolls and corrections of soccer snobs in the US and abroad.  You know what a full count is in baseball right?  This glossary is a cheat sheet to all the specific phrases to soccer.  You need to know them to understand and communicate the game properly among fans.

Aggregate:
There are professional competitions like the UEFA Champions League where teams play two matches, one at each home stadium.  The result of the first game is inconsequential because the winner is determined from the aggregate score of the two games.  The teams play extra time even if a team wins the second game if the score is tied in aggregate.

Asking Questions:
A team is asking questions when they are attacking the goal with purpose and meaning.  This doesn't necessarily imply shots on goal, but even dangerous crosses into the box and tempting runs forward.

Bicycle Kick:
This rare type of kick is when a player leaves their feet to kick the ball over their head.  For example, if the ball is behind a player they can pivot and leap with one foot while throwing the other foot at the ball.  When this kick is performed the player typically rotates their body horizontally and lands on their back.

Box:
Sometimes called the 18 yard box or the penalty area.  A penalty against an offensive player in this area results in a penalty kick.  A goal keeper can handle the ball in this area as long as it is not kicked back to him from a teammate.

Cap:
A term used for international soccer.  A cap is when a player makes an appearance for their national team.

Championship:
The Championship League is the English soccer league directly below the English Premiere League. Teams relegated from the EPL are sent down to the Championship. Teams promoted to the EPL come from the Championship. Currently Championship programming can be found on the BeIn Sports Network.

Clean Sheet:
When a team shuts out another team on the score board, it's a clean sheet.

Clipped:
This term refers to when a player hits another player on the foot with their foot usually when the players are in full stride.

Cracker:
This is not a racist slur.  A cracker is an exciting match where the play goes back and forth from end to end relentlessly with lots of action and shots on goal.

Cynical Foul:
This term is common to hear from American and English football commentators.  The use implies that the player committing the foul did so with purpose and intent to stop the game or an offensive play or as a point of revenge.

Extra Time:
It's not overtime!  When two teams are tied in a tournament elimination game, they go into extra time.  This consists of two 15 minute periods.  Even if a team scores, they extra time is played in full.

Front Foot:
This is a clever phrase to describe a team that is being aggressive going toward goal and controlling ball possession.

Futbol:
Soccer!  In America, we don't even call the beautiful game by the correct name; it's futbol after all, not soccer.  For the sake of sanity and respect for our own culture, we will refer to futbol as soccer in this blog.  Internationally soccer is known as futbol, and it is the most popular sport in the world.  Yes, it can be spelled football, but even we at SoccerIsAmerican.com can be snobby about some things.

Half Volley:
Think short hop.  A half volley is when a player strikes a bouncing ball just after it hits off the ground.  It's in between striking it off the ground and in the air, half volley.

Howler:
A rocket shot blasted 30 rows deep can be a howler, but a howler isn't necessarily a shot. The term howler can be used to refer to any egregious error made by a player or referee. Try using at home with your family.

Injury Time:
Injury time is a bit of misnomer and is being replaced by the term "added time" in the modern futbol vernacular.  Each half, the referee keeps loose track of the time where the game is stopped.  This most often occurs for an injury.  At the end of each half the game doesn't end when the clock reaches 45 minutes or 90 minutes.  The teams still have to play the time where the action was stopped.  The referee decides how much this time is and he has the final decision on when to blow the whistle to end the half or the game.

Match:
In the Americas we refer to matches between teams as games.  "What time is the game on Sunday?"  In soccer, this term is replaced by match.  This little term may seem silly, but soccer snobs will correct you when you refer to a match as a game.  Don't fight it, you must adjust.  This glossary is here to help.

Near Post:
This term is primarily used when an offensive player shoots on goal at the side of the goal closest to them.  The player must be at an angle to the goal where they are closer to one post versus the other.  If they shoot and score it is said that they beat the goalie on the near post.  It is a myth that goalies prefer not to be beaten on the near post, but goalies prefer not to be beaten by any goal regardless of location.
The term "near post" also is used as a location marker for an offensive player without the ball making a run at the goal.  For example, a player without the ball can make a "near post" run to try and position themselves in space for a goal.

Nutmeg:
A nutmeg is when a player kicks the ball between an opposing player's legs.  It is often used as a noun, but can also be used a verb.  The original definition was only when a player struck the ball between the goalie's legs to score a goal, but the modern interpretation includes play in the open field as well.

Offside:
Say it with me, "offside."  The term is singular, not plural.  You can always spot someone new to soccer when they exclaim, "offsides!"  SoccerIsAmerican.com is here to help.  A player is offside when they are closer to the goal line than both the ball and the last defender (not including the goalie), but only if they are in the opposition's half of the pitch.  The offside player does not have to touch the ball to be offside.  They only need to interfere with the play to be flagged offside.

Own Goal:
Tragically, this is when a player directs the ball into their own goal.  This official scoring only occurs if the ball changes direction in a meaningful way, slight deflections do not count as an own goal.

Pitch:
Seriously right!  There may be nothing more annoying than a soccer snob correcting you on the word pitch.  This has nothing to do with baseball.  A pitch is essentially a field, but there are no fields in soccer, only pitches.  Once you are analyzing the speed and quality of the pitch, you may be beyond this blog.

Playing the Advantage:
When a foul is committed the referee can allow play to continue at their discretion.  If the fouled team has an advantage as the play continues then the referee holds his whistle and is said to be "playing the advantage."  The referee will hold both arms forward toward the defensive goal to signal advantage is being played.

Red Card:
A red card is produced by the referee after they issue a second yellow card to the same player in the same game.  A red card can also be produced by the referee is they deem a play or tackle as overtly reckless or dangerous.  A red card can also be produced if the referee deems a foul to occur on an obvious goal scoring opportunity.  The recipient of the red card is sent off the field for the game, and their team must play with a man down for the remainder of the game.  The player receiving the red card is also suspended for the next match.  See also "straight red."

Relegation:
Most professional leagues around the world feature movement of clubs between divisions.  For this example we will use the English Premiere League as an example.  The bottom three teams in the Premiere League are relegated to the Championship League (lower league).  The Premiere League is the highest league in English football, and the teams enjoy more money in television rights and more prestige among supporters.  "Staying up" is important to all Premiere League teams not vying for a top spot in the tables.  At the end of the season the drama to avoid relegation is just as tantalizing as the drama to win the Premiere League.

Scouser:
A Scouser is a person from Merseyside England.  Merseyside is like a county in the United States.  Liverpool and Tottenham futbol clubs reside in Merserside.  People from that area are said to speak in a certain dialect, named Scouse.  Therefore people from Merseyside are called Scousers.

Stamp:
This is an ugly and painful action where a player steps on an opposing player with the full weight of their cleat.

Straight Red Card:
A straight red card refers to when a referee gives a red card to a player without a preceding yellow card against that same player.  The player is sent off the field and their team must play with a man less than their opponent.  The player is also suspended from the next match.

Tables:
Oh yah, foosball right?  No.  A soccer table is not referring to a game itself, but the method of ranking the teams within a league from top to bottom.  A soccer table is equivalent to standings in the US sports vernacular.  Table comes from the word tabulated.  After match results are tabulated, the table displays the league ranking of each team.

Through Ball:
A through ball is a leading pass to a forward player.  A through ball is an offensive pass into space toward the goal that a forward player has to run to.

Touch Line:
Most likely this term comes from Rugby, but you hear it often in soccer. It has nothing to do with the goalie box and handling the ball. It simply refers to the side lines.

Volley:
A volley is a strike against the ball before it hits the ground.  A common example would be when a player kicks the ball across the face of goal, and another player strikes it out of the air towards the goal.  The most common application is an offensive action or shot, but any strike against the ball before it hits the ground can be considered a volley.

Yellow Card:
A yellow card can be presented to a player by the referee for an excessive or reckless foul.  The yellow card serves as a warning for the player.  Two yellow cards in the same game result in a red card.  Yellow cards can be distributed at the referees discretion for any reason.