Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Better of the play?

In two weeks, I've watched enough Olympic soccer to last me until, well, the 2008 Games in Beijing.

The sport is an interesting one, one of intelligence if you study a game in an architectural sort of way. The angles used and how a simple touch in one direction completely changes the play are pretty cool things to watch unfold during game action.

Plus, there's the art of the backward pass used in a positive format, a concept foreign to just about every other sport.

Then the broadcasters talk, and there goes the intelligence sailing over the crossbar like Roberto Baggio's penalty kick in the 1994 World Cup final. But it's not just their fault. Many of the soccer folk like to talk how the score of a game doesn't reflect how it was played. Though many sports people invite this concept into their conversation, soccer people are clearly the biggest offenders.

Example: Iraq was getting smoked by Paraguay, 3-0, when a broadcaster brilliantly deduced that the score doesn't reflect what happened on the field. "Iraq was the better side for most of the game." (The fact that teams are called sides in this sport is a topic for another day, though I could write enough volumes to clog cyberspace like a virus.)

People seemed OK with this statement. Not me. I watched that game and saw Paraguay create scoring chances that Iraq could not stop. A few lapses certainly detract from a team's overall play.

Clearly, there were three parts of the game where Iraq was not the better team. In fact, if they were the better team for most of the game, how come they didn't score until the final five minutes when Paraguay already had the win in hand?

People need to stop rationalizing losses. It doesn't make a team any better. To paraphrase Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are. If your team is 4-12, i.e. 2003 Giants, then your team stinks. Deal with it. As the bumper stickers say, Stuff happens.

In one of my favorite mythical sports concepts, we shall take this "better of the play" idea and apply it to other sports and see what happens:

Baseball: Boston makes 25 of its 27 outs on fly balls to the warning track and loses to the Yankees, 2-0. Who had the better of the play?

Football: Eli Manning leads the Giants on 5 90-yard drives but throws interceptions in the end zone each time. Who had the better of the play?

Basketball: Knicks shoot 80 percent from the field, but all the misses come in the fourth quarter and lose to the Heat. Who had the better of the play?
Which side of these scenarios would you prefer to be on?

"Better of the play" is a concept that exists for low scoring games because long ago, people ran out of ways to explain another 1-0 game.

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