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Apparently Trump Derangement Syndrome Paved The Way For World Cup Derangement Syndrome


For the last month on social media I’ve confronted the ugliest part of American conservatism. No, it’s not the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s not Donald Trump. It’s not Mollie Hemingway’s taste in music. It’s not even John Podhoretz’s inability to allow any of his fellow podcasters to speak for more than a few seconds at a time.

It’s WCDS: World Cup Derangement Syndrome. This time it has been particularly bad, heightened by the embarrassing fact that the United States failed to qualify, completely due to terrible management decisions back in October.

The United States should have qualified, but boohoo, they didn’t. Get over it.

In any case, WCDS reached a fever pitch this week on the eve of England’s first semifinal appearance in almost three decades. As a Three Lions fan and a conservative, I can no longer ignore this insanity. I would quoth Edmund Burke here about good men, but the time is past for such clichés. Stronger drink is required, from Gen. George Patton: “Do your damndest in an ostentatious manner all the time.”

So I shall. I pray the poet guide me to the heights of Peitho that I may save my kindred from their folly.

On July 10, National Review editor Rich Lowry decided it was time to reveal to the world his official status as a sports troglodyte, bringing WCDS to its unfortunate apotheosis. He published an ill-advised article insisting soccer is a fundamentally flawed game. To put it politely, his reasoning is specious, fallacious, philistinism at its worst, and, to quote Sherriff Buford T. Justice, plain and simple old-fashioned communism!

This is the ugliness that WCDS creates. It cripples the minds of great men with its syphilitic tendrils clawing and grasping for purchase. Then, once latched on like a demonic baby, it draws forth life from its parasitic host, leaving nothing but a dry husk of the once-vibrant humanity behind.

Soccer is a truly exquisite sport! I won’t defend it as the greatest sport in existence, because clearly that trophy belongs to jousting (RIP, Full Metal Jousting, the greatest show in the history of sports). But soccer is certainly among the stars that delightfully light our path to athletic nirvana.

Athletic Nirvana, Hear Me Roar

You see, soccer has magical powers possessed of none other. Soccer has the ability to bring martial conflicts to a standstill. Soccer seems to be the only sport that can also inspire so great an insanity in men that they tear apart stadiums and write shoddy opinion pieces about Lady Soccer’s fairness.

She is the servant of the people, the most popular sport in the known universe by far. She does not ask us to wear pads or helmets. She does not seek out the cynicism of mammon (although some of her best players certainly do). So ubiquitous are the love and the blessings she bestows upon mankind that we may as well call her Gaia, the life force of our planet.

But I guess Mr. Lowry knows better than the rest of us. This man who deigns to stand on his high horse in front of the city of Troy and try to dissuade the Greeks by saying, “Menalaus, listen to me. She’s ugly! I had a peek when Paris was off taking a whiz. Nothing to fight a war over. Maybe she was pretty when you knew her, but the sea journey was rough, bro. Now she is flawed.”

Lies, Lies, All Lies

So let’s take a look at his inane ramblings on the beautiful game. Let’s see how he has slandered her with his ignorance before we convict him of athletic heresy. Why does he think soccer is ugly? “The problem from my amateur’s point of view is that the regular action in soccer can’t be relied on to create scoring. So a lot of it happens as a result of interruptions in play and referee calls — on corner kicks, free kicks, and penalty kicks.”

This is troubling for a variety of reasons. “Scoring” is an event in a game, not the game itself. The game of soccer is near-constant action. This is what makes it beautiful. It is a pure sport of movement. The average American football game takes about three hours to watch, and less than a tenth of that time involves the players actually doing anything. Soccer games usually get extra time added at the end of the normal 90 minutes of play to account for injuries and penalties, so that we aren’t cheated out of any delicious action. You get the full amount, and maybe then some. It’s beautiful. Perfect. Sublime.

The fact that a large amount of the scoring comes from set plays and not the regular action is even sillier than it sounds. This is most easily demonstrated by Lowry’s unfortunate analysis of the penalty kick: “And then there are the penalty kicks. They have much too much of an element of randomness since the goaltender has to guess which way to jump. This is absurd and makes ending a tied game on penalty kicks a travesty.”

Penalty kicks (PKs) are not random goalie guesswork. The England and Colombia game from a few days ago ended in PKs. Here is my simplistic breakdown (directions are stage left and right):

  1. Goalie went left, shot went left, goal
  2. Goalie went left, shot went left, goal
  3. Goalie went left, shot went left, goal
  4. Goalie went left, shot went left, goal
  5. Goalie went left, shot went right, goal
  6. Goalie went right, shot went right, block
  7. Goalie went right, shot went right, miss
  8. Goalie went left, shot went left, goal
  9. Goalie went left, shot went left, block
  10. Goalie went left, shot went left, goal

That’s skipping all the nuance of each shot. There were hesitations and misdirections, but usually the goalie ends up on the same side as the ball and still can’t block the shot. Kickers have analyzable tendencies that goalies study to decide where to go for the block. Often, they take off before the ball even does.

Kickers are generally predictable, yet the average PK success rate in the World Cup is over 70 percent, because it is very hard to make a soccer save at this level. But it’s not as if it’s easy to make these shots, either. The pressure alone is so intense that some theorists believe the psychological advantage of simply going first is highly determinative of who wins on PKs.

In other words PKs are amazing! They’re one of the most intense moments in all of sports, a duel between two master gunslingers. Any twinge, any error can determine which team doesn’t advance. Even a few more moments spent studying and considering a kicker’s tendencies could turn the tide.

But what about PKs during games? PKs are earned shots on a goal, not mere random “awards” by the ref. Possession and penetration generate PKs because defenses get tired, sloppy, and desperate. Can they also be “earned” from diving? Of course.

There are advantages to diving. The Italians basically invented and perfected this tactic, and it is an awesome part of the game! The Italians represent some of the most cerebral sports competitors in the world. Everything they do starts in the head and translates to the feet.

Is it dirty? I suppose. It’s also very dramatic and sneaky—and it’s been proven to work. It’s the ref’s job to figure out if someone dove. But there’s certainly an art to it.

Soccer Doesn’t Require Luck, But Skill

Along these lines, the set plays are also essentially earned by the regular action. That makes the regular action important and exciting, regardless of how the scoring is accomplished. A corner kick is earned in the same way that a PK is. The fact that they’re great opportunities to score doesn’t make them boring, but extremely intense and exciting. And to most of the world they are.

Everything that happens in the game is significant: every pass, every run contributes to advancing or losing the ball.

About 50 percent of the goals scored this World Cup were off-set plays, which means about half were scored regularly from the pitch. Everything that happens in the game is significant: every pass, every run contributes to advancing or losing the ball. It’s a truly brilliant game. The fact that calls make a difference is an absurd reason to call the game flawed.

Refs almost never determine the outcome of any sporting event. Each team has the exact same amount of chances to either succeed or fail. The refs may take away one or two of those chances. But in soccer penalties are earned, not just random happenstance. It may feel like luck to Lowry, but it’s skill.

One of the worst moments in Three Lions history came at the hand of Diego Maradona in 1986. That infamous hand-ball goal determined the outcome of Argentina versus England 2-1. But tell me why England was unable to score more than once? They had 90 minutes and they couldn’t overcome Maradonna’s “hand of god”?

Crazy stuff happens during games. Argentina was the better team that day, and what Maradonna did was smart. Not only did it help his team win a World Cup, but because he punished the English a small religion is dedicated to him.

Only Lady Soccer can cause this kind of madness. These delirious heights of epic ridiculousness cannot be compared with any other sport. Soccer is far from a flawed game. It’s practically perfect in every way.