With Shark Week over, I decided to move on to another themed week. Since David Beckham is trying to make soccer sexy in America, I thought I'd try Soccer Week. Before I get into that though, I like to take the time to comment on Beckham. I'm not sure what to think. On the one hand I'm not a fan of "Becks" or anything that comes with as much hype as he has and I think it could be somewhat amusing seeing him fail. I'm also not a fan of the L.A. Galaxy, although that's probably the result of built-in prejudice against sports franchises from New York and L.A. On the other hand, I am a soccer fan and even an MLS fan (although not as much now that I no longer live in Salt Lake). I would love to see soccer grow in stature in the US, but I'm realistic. As TV's Craig Ferguson said "Some people think that Americans will discover soccer through David Beckham being here, which is ridiculous. I think Americans discovered soccer years ago and went 'eh.'"
To commemorate Soccer Week, I have been watching various soccer movies over the past few days. I started with The Miracle Match (aka The Game of Their Lives), the true story of the 1950 US Soccer Team that went to the World Cup in Brazil and upset heavily favored England 1-0. In my opinion it's right there among history's greatest sports upsets. They didn't go on to win it all like the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team, but the mere fact that these guys were all amateurs playing against English pros says a lot. After that I skipped ahead a few years to watch the documentary Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos. For those of you unfamiliar with the Cosmos, they were one of the professional soccer teams in the North American Soccer League. Back in the 1970's the US decided it was ready for soccer and formed a league. Things didn't take off until the Cosmos managed to sign Pele. It was interesting to see the parallels between Beckham's arrival in America and Pele's. (Disclaimer: I do not consider Beckham and Pele to be on the same level in terms of skill or accomplishment, only in terms of hype and celebrity.) The problem with the NASL was it expanded too quickly (28 teams compared with 13 currently in the MLS) and couldn't hang on to its TV contract with ABC. That combined with the millions of dollars teams like the Cosmos were throwing at international players doomed them to fail. Hopefully MLS has learned something. The signing of David Beckham suggests they haven't.
Next I moved into the realm of soccer fiction by watching Goal!: The Dream Begins and its sequel Goal II: Living the Dream. If FIFA were to make a movie, it would be exactly like these two. They chronicle the life a young Santiago Munez as he goes from being an illegal Mexican immigrant living in L.A. to a European soccer star playing in the UEFA Champions League. The story lines are full of cliches, but the action is probably as good as any soccer movie out there. There are even plenty of cameos from stars like Beckham, Zidane and Raul. I then scaled things back a bit from soccer's second biggest stage (the third installment about Santiago playing in soccer's biggest stage, the World Cup, is due out next year), but kept with the current theme and watched Bend It Like Beckham featuring a pre-Pirates Keira Knightley, a pre-ER Parminder Nagra, a pre-Tudors Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and, despite the title, no David Beckham. It's a fun little movie with a ton of story lines all over the place.
Other soccer movies I recommend include Victory (or Escape to Victory) starring Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Pele, The Cup about a group of Buddhist monks who watch the World Cup (it was the first movie to ever come out of Bhutan), The Other Final, a documentary about a 2002 match between Bhutan and Montserrat, the two lowest ranked teams in the world, and of course Air Bud: World Pup. Other soccer movies I've seen in the past include Shaolin Soccer (from Kung Fu Hustle's Stephen Chow) and countless kid soccer movies like The Big Green and Will Farrell's Kicking & Screaming.
Next year I will hype Soccer Week better and make it more of an event.
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