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SoccerFestWasTheBest

Today’s edition of “Throwback Thursday” is a very special one.

As a nine year-old who was (and still is) an enthusiastic soccer fan, attending SoccerFest at the Los Angeles Convention Center was amazing. The United States went all-in for promoting the world’s game to its skeptical American sports audience. By hosting the World Cup tournament, Americans got to see and experience the beautiful game up close and personal.

Granted, SoccerFest was more than 20 years ago. But I still vividly remember walking up to the glass case with THE World Cup trophy inside, which was stop-in-your-tracks mesmerizing. I had an unforgettable time on this special birthday trip with my Dad. This included playing beach soccer, recording a video of me saving shots from the world’s best strikers on a VHS tape, taking home a beautiful poster that was signed by the artist (who was #22 for the USMNT) and getting my very own Soccer America magazine cover.

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While I may be biased here, the kid dribbling the soccer ball at the :22 and :24 second mark looks really familiar…

I still think the U.S. jerseys from the 1994 World Cup were awesome. The jerseys are definitely better than anything Nike has designed (a generous term) lately. The full kits proudly (and boldly) showcased America in red, white and blue, stars and all.

And regarding SoccerFest, the star was definitely my Dad.

It’s as Hard as 1-2-3

How do clubs like Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid consistently remain as a few of the top performing clubs in the world?

Where to begin: Players, coaches, tactics, history, stadiums/infrastructure, determination, experience, youth, money and passionate fan bases. These attributes certainly help in distinguishing the best soccer clubs from their league and continental challengers. However, the “it” factor for these players, it can be argued, is their rejection of the famed Allen Iverson Principle that slams showing up to practice and singularly promotes showing up for the game.

“…Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game, we talking ’bout practice, man. I mean, how silly is that? We’re talking about practice.”
–Allen Iverson

The timelessness of the old adage, “Practice makes perfect” reminds us that beginner’s luck runs out and that there is someone better out there. We must always remain dedicated and proactive with our craft and passions.

Certainly, Bayern Munich players know how to juggle a soccer ball. They’ll throw in tricks here and there for fun and for bragging rights among their teammates. Unsurprisingly, juggling a soccer ball between four players can present a bit of a challenge.

Now, add two more soccer balls into Route 1’s path and it becomes a worthy TV-interrupting zigzagging high-speed chase.

Soccer players, at the top of their game, burnishing their skill-set while preparing for the decisive Champions League quarterfinal match at Benfica illustrates the importance of practice. Plus, the Bayern Quattro on the pitch (Audi is a club sponsor) reveals the day-to-day mentality that helped the German giants defeat Benfica and qualify for the Champions League semifinal (opponent to be determined Friday morning). Each day is an opportunity to improve.

I’m talking about practice.

The same practice that leads to championships.

P.S. Of course Bayern Munich has a Biergarten at their practice facility. Add that to the list.  

The Soccer-Pointer

Basketball games are filled with lots of points. They’re not hard to come by. Conversely, goals in soccer are (comparatively) significantly more rare, but lauded with comparable energy and jubilation as an alley-oop, backboard-breaking slam dunk or buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

So, how would world-class footballers fare in the world of basketball, with that tiny hoop and a regulation size 5 soccer ball? Interestingly, a layup seems more impressive when soccer players do it:

The half-court heave has nothing on this:

“Basketttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt!!!!!”

(That’s soccer for, “Yeah, that just happened”).

The Beautiful Touch

There are a variety of reasons why MLS differs from top European soccer leagues. Culture, tactics, skill, speed, salaries and a business-like approach to playing soccer results in the beautiful game being played on (and in) a perfect pitch. In Europe especially, possession is an important asset. Subsequently, the skill and intelligence to translate continuously fluid ball movement into dangerous attacks in bursts of offensive virtuosity is simply spectacular.

Many players in leagues all around the world at various levels struggle with passing to their teammates with an unrestricted number of touches. It seems simple enough, but there is far too much evidence of the contrary at the professional level. Mastering the fundamentals of passing, shooting, running/conditioning, positioning and familiarity are the overarching keys of great soccer players and teams. It’s only after these elements are achieved that sustained creativity can be implemented.

Bayern Munich expertly demonstrates in the video below one reason why they are the best German club with the best players, but also why they are truly one of the best soccer teams in the world. In a close game, one touch can literally make all the difference.

“Pep’s Boys” in Munich have been known to finish a game with 60-70+% of possession. It’s become the status quo. In January of this year, Bayern Munich had the highest average percentage of possession in Europe at 71.1% (101 Great Goals online). Second was Barcelona, Pep Guardiola’s former squad.

If your opponents don’t have the ball, it’s usually pretty difficult for them to score…