Tuesday, August 6, 2013

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Week Thirty-One: Choosing Sides

Penalty kicks in soccer are a tricky thing. Goalies don't have much choice but to guess which way the shooter will go and fling themselves in that direction. Even then, a well struck penalty is virtually unstoppable. This was my first time seeing pros take PKs live and it is unreal how hard they can strike the ball. The goalies really are left hoping that their opponent messes up and nobody really expects them to make the save, which only makes it that much more amazing when they pull it off.

I read an interesting opinion piece once that really struck me about how it was far more fun to support a team that was not at the top of the food chain. The logic was that there is no upside for a team that is expected to win. If they succeed, nobody is surprised and they have only met expectations, but if they lose their fans see it as a huge failure. Either way, the upside is limited. But if you cheer for a team not at the pinnacle, you're never overly disappointed if they aren't the greatest (you knew that to begin with) but you're over the moon when they exceed expectations. Less downside, potential for huuuuuge upside.

Last week, I got to watch a match between  Everton (my favorite club these days) and Juventus here in SF that illustrated this point perfectly. Juventus are the reigning champions of the Italian league and one of the most storied teams in soccer. Everton also have a lot of history, but haven't really been a powerhouse since the 80s. The game went back and forth before eventually being decided in a PK shootout, with Everton getting the win. None of the Everton fans would have been all that devastated had they lost to Juventus (they're one of the top teams in the world), but were absolutely thrilled to come away with the win. The Juventus fans, on the other hand, would have been largely nonplussed about beating Everton (it's just Everton, after all), but were pretty pissed about walking out losers from the match.

With that mindset, Everton are an easy team to get behind. They've got some really good players, though not many superstars, but they work hard and play as a team. Their style is pretty attractive, especially compared to the super negative approach other teams on their level often take, so they're good fun to watch. They are neither one of the titans of the league (like a ManU or an Arsenal), nor are they even the biggest local team (Liverpool dwarfs them), making them perpetual underdogs. Yet they consistently outperform their stature as a club and often nipping at the heels of bigger sides. Everton's coach put it best in his comments for the game day program: "Underdogs must be brave". You go out knowing you are outgunned, but still have to be brave enough to have a go at it and try to make something special happen. That's how Everton play.

You will find far more fans of teams like ManU or Barcelona, who have rosters full of the world's best players and win championships all the time, but those aren't the teams for me. I'll stick with my scrappy underdogs, shrugging off the bad and cheering wildly for the upsets. Like a goalie defending a penalty, I've picked my side and, though I won't win them all, it will be all the more exhilarating when I come out on top.

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