Pitch not so perfect

OK, people. Enough. 

It's not that I really and truly hate your game, although it's not my favorite. There's a lot of running around and up and down, chasing a ball that occasionally will find a foot and rumble towards the goal. There's a lot of flailing about when a 'foul' is committed, people in brightly colored jerseys and with well-defined calf muscles collapsing like a popped balloon before being miraculously healed when the whistle does not blow.

I didn't grow up with your game, so while I'm sure it can be beautiful, it doesn't have the beauty to me of a 3-2, bottom-of-the-ninth, runner-in-scoring-position pitch, and it never will.

What I did grow up with is y'all, or a lot of y'all, or people just like y'all, and I know that your sudden, once-every-four-years devotion to this game is a kickload of crap.

Lots of people I know are exempt from this. These people actually watch soccer more than once a World Cup. They follow clubs with unpronounceable names and hairy strikers. They wear soccer jerseys - is that what they're called? - in public when it's not trendy for everyone else in the airport to do the same. 

But that ain't most of y'all, and you know it.

Your sudden interest in Uzbekistan versus the International Federation of Goat's Milk Bathers is just fake. And your insistence on explaining to me why it matters, and why I'm missing out because it doesn't matter to me, is just annoying. 

I expect this sort of behavior from ESPN. If it can draw one one-thousandth of a Nielsen point, beat it death. Put it on the bottom-of-the-screen crawl and at the top of your app and lead in to every SportsCenter with it and make Stuart Scott (great to see him back, by the way) squirm uncomfortably while discussing it. This I expect. My mother texting me to come downstairs during a recent visit because the World Cup is on? Could have knocked me over with a feather - or one of those 'tackles' that take place on the 'pitch.'

Seriously, normal sports words aren't enough? It can't just be a field? A zero can't be zero, or nothing, or '0', or zilch? Nil doesn't even start with a Z. You just have to be so different, so other, so ... European. And if you want to call it futbol, fine. But football means one thing, and it's not played on a pitch, and tackles sound a little different. Oh, and why can't you just stop the clock for injuries, instead of stopping it with two minutes left and then leaving everyone to guess how much time is left from then until however much arbitrary extra time expires? 

I've covered enough soccer - high school, college and semi-pro - to be more conversant than your average meathead 'expert' this month, and I appreciate the excitement - rare though it can be - the game can generate. And honestly, I'm excited that Team USA is doing pretty well and stands a decent chance of advancing from the Group of Death (now there's a name I can get behind. Bring on some chainsaw-wielding defenders, maybe a few demented clowns in goal, perhaps an out-of-the-blue, yawning sinkhole at midfield). I'm glad we can participate in this global game without shaming ourselves. Does that make me want to wrap myself in the Stars and Stripes and go parading up and down the street, vuvuzela and vodka in hand? No.

But then, I'm kind of touchy about the word patriotism. I think it requires more than a flag on your lapel and PC drivel on your lips. I think it requires a little more frequent vigilance, attention paid to your surroundings, regular attendance at your local polls and a willingness to support your troops once they come back home, too.

Don't worry, that's as much as I'm going to say about that. But this false ring of American bravado, this chant of U-S-A that is somehow meant to unite a country splintered beyond conceivable repair, red and blue without the white, is a tiny part of what is bugging me.

But mainly it's that my lunch space at work has been taken over by the resident Super Fan and Sports Expert, who turns the TV to the World Cup and provides running commentary and analysis for as long as he can hold his audience's rapt attention. Mainly it's that people who I know couldn't spot offsides upon threat of decapitation to their face-painted heads are suddenly rabid fans of a sport that does not register on our national radar any other time, ever, period, except perhaps when our women's team is winning another Olympic gold medal - women, past and present, who are largely responsible for soccer's surge in popularity. 

It's the lemmings leaping toward the cliff, laughing and cavorting and having a fine old time. It's being told what's important and bobbing your head in unquestioned agreement. 

All that said, by all means, go USA. And hurry up about it.