Did you see the World Cup final? Japan, victorious and smitten with their World Cup trophy above, beat out the Americans in an amazing match of wills and endurance. It was very enjoyable game. The US dropped its first three penalty kicks as Japan nailed three out of four to clinch the win.
But if you asked me to break it down for you — the game play, that is — I’d look like a moron.
Here’s the thing: I’ve covered a few hundred soccer games. Tons in high school and college; and now a handful of pro games. I’ve probably watched a ton more. But I’ll never consider myself an expert of the beautiful game. I am a casual fan, not much more. If you were to start a conversation about soccer strategy, soccer rules, or anything of the sort, it’ll likely just hurt my head. I’m that kind of fan.
However, I really hate it when folks think that means you have no right to write about the game. These are the same people that think you have no right to write about their team if you’ve never lived in their city, or some other idiotic drivel. It permeates a jackass culture behind sports — one in which only a select group of people can legitimately comment on the happenings of the world. I admit, to a point, that there needs to be a basic level of understanding to write about certain sports. A general understanding of the rules helps. But the overall arch of sports reporting and storytelling have nothing to do with the minutia of the game, whether that be soccer, cricket, basketball or football. As a writer, if you spend a ton of time explaining the reasons why the New England Revolution switched from a 4-5-1 to a 3-5-2, you’re going to lose the mass appeal of the game. As my colleague Frank Dell’Apa properly analyzes in his own story on the Revs’ 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, the appeal of the game is not about the strategy so much as it is about the two teams’ will and focus. (In the case of the Revs, they’re playing like “schoolboys.”) However, there is space for both.
Balance is key, but a greater understanding of appeal is more important. The X’s and O’s have a place in sports writing, as do all the finer points of any story. But to get lost in them, or depend on them, is amateurish. In fact, that’s easy. Any Red Sox fan could cover major league baseball with that criteria. However, to tie in the drama, the story behind the story so to speak, requires skill that a box score will not help with. And for that reason, I think being an expert on a particular sport means little in this business. But being an expert writer means everything.