Like to try soccer? Get back on the sofa


PERHAPS YOU'VE been watching World Cup soccer on TV, and you're tempted to get up off the sofa and try the game yourself. Allow me to offer you these words of encouragement: Get back on the sofa.

I say this because recently I played in a soccer game (or "match") on a regulation soccer field or ("pitch"), and I wound up fearing for the safety of my most sensitive male anatomical parts (or "Roscoes").

I blame my wife. She's a sportswriter, and she covers South Florida's Major League Soccer team, which is called the "Miami Fusion." I attend most of the games, because I like to sit in the press box and help the sportswriters by offering knowledgeable soccer observations such as, "I bet that hurts when they hit it with their heads!" and "There's the beer vendor!"

The reason I know so much about soccer is that I used to play it myself, as a college freshperson in 1965. The type of soccer I played was "intramurals," which comes from the Greek words "intra," meaning "guys," and "murals," meaning "who are not trying too hard." If the ball happened to come directly to us, we'd try to kick it, but we did not go looking to get involved.

So, when my wife and I were asked to play in a match between the media and the staff of the Miami Fusion, I said sure. I figured we'd jog around in the vicinity of the ball for a few friendly minutes, then go to a restaurant.

I was an idiot. Most of the other people, on both teams, were serious, cleat-wearing soccer players. Some had played on professional teams, where they ate intramural players for their team snack. They were shouting Spanish soccer expressions that translate roughly to: "I shall kick the ball with great velocity, so stand clear, lest it pass through your torso and travel a great distance farther with your pancreas clinging to it!"

The other problem was the size of the playing field. It always appeared, from up in the press box, to be about the size of a football field, but when I actually stood on it, I realized it was much closer, in terms of square footage, to Kansas.

When the game started, I ran around in a sort of ampersand pattern. One time the ball came directly toward me, and I was about to kick it when I heard cleated footsteps approaching from behind at an estimated 140 miles per hour. Because I am a free-thinking '90s guy, I'm not ashamed to say that it was a woman player who knocked me sideways like an inflatable Bozo doll and took the ball away. I am ashamed to say that I was replaced in the lineup by a man named Leo Mueller who is - I swear I am not making this up - 89 years old. Leo took up soccer in his late 60s, and he played way better than I did, despite the fact that he has about the same foot speed as a geranium.

At halftime, my wife, who had also been running around out there somewhere, came to me on the sideline. I figured that, as a competitive person and sports journalist, she wanted to discuss tactics.

She said: "Do these shorts look too big?"

As a veteran male, I know it's a big mistake to answer that type of question, so I trotted onto the field for the second half. This was an even bigger mistake, because I wound up being part of a "wall." This happens when your team commits a foul, and the other team gets to kick the ball at your goal, so the players on your team line up in front of the kicker to try to block the shot. All the men put both hands over the part of their body that they value the most, which, needless to say, is not their brains.

Fortunately, the ball was kicked in such a way that nobody in the wall will have to change choir sections, if you get my drift. Finally, after about a month, the game ended. I will frankly admit that the Fusion staff team was a lot better than the media team. But since the media get to write the story, I'm stating here, for the official record, that we won 158 to 3, and I personally scored nine touchdowns. So all in all, it was a lot of fun, and I look forward to playing soccer again. When they pry my cold, dead butt off the sofa.

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